2006 Erne Safari Rally Report

31 March 2006

Willie McKeown and Patrick McCollum won the Erne Safari, the latest round of the Energia Navigation Rally Championship. This rally seems to be a happy hunting ground for McKeown/McCollum, as it was the scene of their first navigation rally victory back in 2000, and in total they have won this event on 5 occasions, including the last 4 consecutively.

This year's Erne Safari, organised by Enniskillen Motor Club under the guidance of Clerk of the Course Drew Wilson, started once again in Irvinestown. Thirty-four cars started out on the 76 mile route that took them as far north as Dromore in Tyrone and as far south as Tempo in Fermanagh. Although the crews had to drive through sometimes torrential rain to get to the rally, the conditions were dry overhead for the duration of the competition itself.

A high quality field of crews lined up at the start of the rally, with 6 proven rally winners among the Expert Class. They were to be challenged, as the route comprised 49 controls, with all but 3 of the 14 sections having a secret check on the first ½ mile. And the other 3 sections had their first control after 1 mile, so there was absolutely no chance of slow plotters getting away penalty free.

The first major problem to greet crews came on the 3rd section of the night, when several crews deemed that the route plotted through a network of white lanes. Phil and Alan Dorman headed up these lanes first, but when they saw that they were turning to grass tracks, turned and plotted an alternative route. Then McKeown/McCollum went a little bit further than the Dormans along the same lane, and they turned when all that was in front of them was an open field. They just had enough room and traction to turn and get back out to safe ground. Next to come along this lane were Clifford Auld/Elaine Scott and John and Jonathan Henderson. Clifford went further in than any before him, and the inevitable happened. He couldn't get out. The Henderson's escaped, but it took a tractor, and approximately 2 hours, to rescue the stranded Golf. But they returned to the rally, picking up the route from the relaxed section, and finished 4th in class, on 703 penalties.

This was Elaine's third driver this year. She had James Nicol driving in Omagh, where they retired before TCB, and Clifford drove her into a field in Enniskillen. She might be safer just sticking with the husband for the rest of the season.

In the end, it was agreed that the section could indeed be plotted in two different ways, and so was omitted from the results.

The very next section caused some more bother for the Dormans. They were two minutes late at the first secret in the section, and then turned off route just after it, narrowly missing a penalty for a wrong departure in the process. With the time wasted correcting themselves, they had lost another 2 minutes at the next secret. "Total brain fade" explained Alan afterwards. Maybe he is human. This error, along with a number of single minute penalties at the early secrets meant they scored a total of 13 marks for the night. This was good enough for second place, and considering that Enniskillen seems to be their bogey event, they were well pleased with their best ever finish in the Erne Safari.

Another crew in contention throughout had been Eddie Murphy and Barry Taggart, but they went totally in the wrong direction at TCI. They picked up 27 marks in this section alone, which dropped the Corsa crew from a useful 2nd place to a distant 6th at the finish.

Gary Sheridan/Lloyd Cochrane had a bit of shaky start, dropping significant time in 3 of the first 4 sections which had them down in 7th place at one point, but in the final 9 sections they dropped a total of only 2 minutes, which brought them up to 3rd overall by the end. Their final score of 14 was only 1 mark behind the Dormans in second.

The winning crew of McKeown/McCollum were still on 1 mark as they entered the final 4½ mile section of the night, so they took a cautious approach of plotting, checking and replotting before moving off. They picked up a "2" and a "1" at the two secrets, but their total of 4 was still clear of the chasing pack.

In the semi-experts, father and son Stuart and Richard Hyland were victorious in only their second rally of the year. They had a steady run throughout, making no major errors, and visiting every control. William Todd and Maurice Cresswell were 2nd, 15 marks behind the winners, but this included one disastrous section where they got 38 marks.

As usual, there was a mighty battle in the Novices. Five crews could easily have won. Rodney and Helen Ferguson had only 4 marks after 43 miles, but making the same mistake as Murphy/Taggart before them cost them dear. Their total of 28 meant a 9th place finish. Mark Symington/Keith Kirkland were on 4 marks after 48 miles, but one bad section pushed their score up to 22, which gave them a 6th place finish. Linda Kenneway and Rachel Muldoon seem to have cured whatever was causing so many early penalties for them on previous rallies. This change helped them to finish on only 6 marks, but such is the level of competition in this class, it was only good enough for 3rd. Nigel Campbell and Colin Harkness had a great run, spoiled only by an early at the very first secret of the night. They finished on 5 marks, which was the same as the eventual winners, but the further cleaner rule was never going to work in their favour. And so, Ronnie and Aaron Mitchell won the class on 5 marks in their Ford Sierra XR4x4, having stayed clean for over 40 miles, further than any other crew on the rally.

Eleven crews made up the Beginners' Class. Quite remarkably, the winning navigator in this class was competing in her first ever navigation rally. Karen Fisher had Isla Graham driving, which made for two all-girl crews in this rally. They were never more than 2 minutes behind their schedule at any point in the rally, and finished on 24 marks, 7 clear of the next crew of Charles Dunleavy and Roy Lindsay. Ivor Barker and David O'Neill were 3rd, with Richard Keys and Alistair Barker 4th.

As the championship now breaks for the summer, the Dormans are leading the points race. Remarkably, despite their domination of recent years, this is the first time they have led the championship at this stage. Does this mean that the championship is heading in a different direction this year, or is it just that the Dormans are looking it clinched earlier than ever before? There have now been four different winning crews in the first five rallies. But with the calibre of registered crews this year, it could be that more crews could be added to the list of 2006 winners before the season reaches its conclusion.

Patrick McCollum

Posted by PMcCollum on 28/8/2008; Last updated by PMcCollum on 28/8/2008