Ulster Challenge Rally 1 Report

24 August 2013


Hunter resolves Ulster unknown



Ross Hunter and Josh Davison cracked the conundrum of the first of this weekend’s Ulster Challenge rally events to score their second win of the 2013 NGK Spark Plugs BRC Challenge.  They were pushed all the way by series returnees Dean Raftery and co driver Aileen Kelly as championship front runners Russ Thompson and Richard Sykes endured a tricky afternoon.



After getting underway from the ceremonial start in Enniskillen town centre, the first test of the day saw the crews head to the east to tackle the exciting stage around local beauty spot Topped Mountain, so called because of the prominent cairn on the summit.



Hunter, who won the ‘Challenge’s previous tarmac test, the Jim Clark Rally in May, immediately seized control of the event.  Running third on the road, the man from St Boswell delivered a time of 9min09secs to top the timesheets after all 12 runners completed the 9.25miles of the stage.



In hot pursuit in their Honda Civic were Raftery and Kelly, who had demonstrated exceptional pace on their previous ‘Challenge outing and the pair kept Hunter honest, being only five seconds behind the man from St Boswell’s.



Over the course of the remaining two stages in the first loop, the Irish crew continued to be the closest challengers to Hunter and Davison, however they were unable to do anything but watch the lead grow.



Delivering a considered and clean drive Hunter/Davison added another 11.2 seconds to their advantage on stage two and on stage three increased the lead by a further six and a half seconds, to give him a handy 23 second lead of the event.



While Raftery was performing well and comfortably sitting second, eyes turned further down the order as title rivals Russ Thompson and Richards Sykes were locked in a massive scrap for third position as the competitors headed to service.



Both crews arrived in Northern Ireland looking to record strong results for their respective championship campaigns, but endured a trying afternoon in Counties Fermanagh and Tyrone.



Thompson and co-driver Andy Murphy completed Topped Mountain fifth fastest, as they took a cautious approach to the wet Ulster roads .Their lack of experience of those conditions on this type of surface allowed Sykes and co-driver Simon Taylor to take advantage to the tune of 3.3 seconds.



On stage two, the pendulum swung in the other direction, with Thompson overtaking his rival for third. Drying stages had allowed the Lancastrian to unlock some  extra pace, as Sykes found himself driving on worn intermediate tyres that made the car feel “like it was on blancmange”.



After the third test, where Sykes was second fastest to Thompson’s fourth, the pair were separated by a tantalising 1.3 seconds. However, an earlier moment for Thompson and Murphy would prove to be the turning point in this particular battle.



Early into stage two, the championship leaders landed their Renault Clio heavily after a large jump which, they knew had caused damage through a telltale trail of smoke entering the car through the footwell.



At service they established the landing had cracked the car’s sump. Thompson’s team then undertook a herculean effort with the loan of spares from Ross Hunter’s crew. But the damage left them unable to fend off a hard charging Sykes and forced them to surrender the final podium position to the RC5 class winner.



Back at the front of the field, drama was now striking at the up-to-now imperious Hunter. After dominating the first part of the day by winning all three stages, he was only able to record the fourth fastest times on the day’s final two stages after developing gearbox troubles that saw him forced to complete the day in third gear.



Fortunately for the Borderer, the 23-second gap he had built was enough to keep the charging Raftery at bay, with the 21 year old Galwegian only able to reduce the lead to 9.1sec and having to settle for a well-earned second place overall and a RC3 class win.



This saw the Scot take his second 30 point haul of the year and bring himself right into overall championship contention.



With the overall Challenge heating up nicely, the Fiesta SportChallenge has also started to come to the boil after the first Ulster Event.



Returning to the stages after a monster shunt on the last event in Dumfries, Aaron McClure & Tom Woodburn took a steady approach, looking to score a good result and regain the championship lead from young Devonian Chris Wheeler.



Brake problems checked McClure’s progress although the retirements of Steven Smith and Tim Daltry elevated the Next Big Step-supported youngster to sixth. However the steady approach that Wheeler/Griffiths have adopted all season sees them head into Saturday’s second ‘Challenge round with a one point lead in the Fiesta series and a five point lead in the combined RC2 RC3 class.



Posted by PMcCollum on 26/8/2013; Last updated by PMcCollum on 26/8/2013