2004 Erne Safari Rally Report

2 April 2004

Willie McKeown and Patrick McCollum made it two consecutive wins in the Northern Ireland Navigation Rally Championship with victory in the Erne Safari Rally. Drew Wilson, Clerk of the Course for the Enniskillen Motor Club organised event, put on an 85 mile route that started in Irvinestown, a change from the regular Carrybridge. The route was comprised of two loops around Ederney, Dromore, Trillick and Ballinamallard, finishing along the shore of Lower Lough Erne.

The rally started with a bit of a panic for the current champions, as the Dorman's trip wasn't working due to a stripped gearwheel in their gearbox. They managed to source a replacement part in a breaker's yard at 8pm on a Friday night, got it fitted and started the event with their trip working.

The competitors were able to warm up with a couple of easy sections that nearly all of the Expert and Semi-expert crews cleaned. Then the difficult sections started, and with Lewis Boyd the only navigator to stay clean until after TCC, he became the early leader. Lewis, with R O'Kane driving instead of his regular Leslie Young, lost the lead after a set of out-of-order tulips cost him time. Phil and Alan Dorman then led for only a couple of miles, as they also lost time later in the same section. This let McKeown/McCollum lead for the first time, a lead which they held onto until the half-way stop in Irvinestown, by which time they were on 3 marks. Gary Sheridan/Lloyd Cochrane were second at the halt on 8, with the Dormans third (14), Eddie Murphy/Barry Taggart fourth (19) and O'Kane/Boyd on 41.

McKeown/McCollum's lead was short lived, though, as they could not get the Clock Faces instruction to work in the first section after the relaxed. This dropped them to a share of 3rd place, behind new leaders Gary Sheridan/Lloyd Cochrane and the Dormans, but then both these crews struggled with the next section to leave McKeown/McCollum and Murphy/Taggart only 1 mark apart with 20 miles to go, and both crews running on the road together. The result was finally decided with a set of map traces. This section started just beside a major B road, and both crews assumed that this road would be avoided and headed off in the other direction. McKeown/McCollum realised this assumption had been wrong quicker than Murphy/Taggart, and this was enough to secure the win for the Vauxhall Corsa crew.

The winning score was 22 marks, with Murphy/Taggart (Nova) on 26, Sheridan/Cochrane (Nova) on 29, and making it an all Vauxhall top 4, the Dormans (Nova) finished on 41.

The Semi-Experts Class was won by Clifford Auld/John Lindsay in their Rover P6, after a close battle with Gerald Green/Michael McElwee. The class lead alternated between these two during the event, with Auld/Lindsay leading first. This soon changed when they tried to pass a competitor who was stopped to plot. As they inched past on the grass verge, the car slipped into a ditch, and they had to wait until the mid-field sweeper came and towed out the big V8 Rover. Undeterred, they carried on, and their persistence was awarded, for as they continued to pick up penalties for lateness, Green/McElwee missed two secret controls, and the 60 penalties from these put paid to their chances of a victory. Auld/Lindsay won the class on 124, with Green/McElwee in yet another Nova were on 145. Paul Gray/Jim Smith had a rather torrid time, and finished on 430. The other car in the class, the Peugeot 106 of Peter Jennings and Ian Howard, failed to finish.

James Woods/Chris Ragg won the Novice Class in their Peugeot 205. Their simplified instructions meant that they did not have to work too hard during the night, and finished on an impressive score of 6 marks. This gave QUBMC a clean sweep of victories in Classes 1, 2 and 3. Second were Ernest Campbell and David Johnston, with Ivan and Gareth Hawe taking the big Renault Scenic to third on 22 marks. Another father and son crew, George and Stephen Wallace, were 4th on 34. Eddie Robinson/Alan Shilliday were fifth on 38, but they suffered greatly from picking up a 30 during the first half. Without this, they would have been very close to the class victory.

The rest of the 32-strong entry was made up of the non-championship Beginners. This class only ran until the half way half, and winners in this class were Keith Telford/Gary Knight on 3 marks, with Richard Keys and Nicola Milligan runners up on 14 in their Mk I Cortina. John Stafford/Leslie Hawe were 3rd on 17 and Mark Symington/Keith Kirkland 4th on 32.

McKeown/McCollum now have a strengthened lead at the top of the championship table, but history shows that they often do well during the early part of the season, and then fail to repeat that success in the later part. This Erne Safari win marks their 3rd victory in this event out of their last 4 starts, which contrasts sharply with the fortunes of the Dormans. They currently lie 2nd in the championship standings, but have always struggled to do well during their visits to Fermanagh, which apparently was a problem that their father, Brian, suffered from as well during his years navigating.

The Semi-Expert class is evenly poised between Gray/Smith and Auld/Lindsay, while the Novice class shows James Woods/Chris Ragg building a healthy lead. Yet again, the club championship is being led QUBMC. This time, their "B" team leads from Dungannon.

The season now takes its summer break and returns in September in Dungannon.

Patrick McCollum

Posted by PMcCollum on 23/9/2008; Last updated by PMcCollum on 23/9/2008