2005 Pre-Circuit Rally Report

25 February 2005

Gary Sheridan and Lloyd Cochrane were popular winners of the Pre-Circuit Rally, round 2 of the Energia Northern Ireland Navigation Rally Championship. This Vauxhall Nova crew are well known for their accurate approach to Navigation Rallying. They almost always get the route exactly right, and while that often means they drop a few minutes doing so, this was a very worthwhile policy to adapt in this rally. While Sheridan/Cochrane carefully plotted their course, all around were either missing controls or leaving controls in the wrong direction.

Clerk of the Course, Derek Graham and his team from Omagh Motor Club had moved the rally further south than normal for this year. Rally HQ was in Tattyreagh, between Fintona and Omagh. The route made a clockwise circuit around Fintona, including running though Seskinore Forest.

The entry comprised of 46 cars. This is an exceptional number for a navigation rally. As well as the 16 cars in the Novice class, 8 crews made up the non-championship Beginner class and ten crews were fresh out of Omagh Club's rally school, who ran in a class by themselves at the back of the field.

Sheridan/Cochrane did not have the best of starts to the rally, as they had to stop on the very first section to sort electrical gremlins in their Vauxhall Nova. It was the third section that caused a lot of difficulty for the field. Most crews took a long time to fathom that the main body of the route instructions alone were not enough to plot the correct route, but the stops and giveways were also required. This caused Willie McKeown/Patrick McCollum to visit a control from the wrong direction once, and then corrected themselves and visited it for a second time. Eddie Murphy/Barry Taggart missed a secret check completely on this section and all crews lost a lot of time.

By the relaxed section, it was the Dorman brothers, Phil and Alan, who were leading. A surprise second place at this stage was the local crew of William Todd/Maurice Cresswell. They were only 2 minutes behind the Dormans on 10 marks, with Sheridan/Cochrane on 15 and another Omagh crew, David Kerr/Lewis Boyd on 16.

The Dormans' grip on the lead ended just after TCI. In the space of 100m, they left the control in the wrong direction, and booked into a secret, also in the wrong direction and very early. These 30-plus penalties ended their hopes of a victory and even pushed them down to third in the end, 3 minutes behind Murphy/Taggart.

With everyone else's penalties mounting up, this left the door open for Sheridan/Cochrane to sail to a well deserved win. This was Gary's first championship win, and Lloyd's second, with the other being on the Jumping Jack Rally 2000, when his driver was John Henderson. It also meant an end to the run of victories for the triumvirate of Dorman/Dorman, Murphy/Taggart and McKeown/McCollum. Between the three of them, they had won all of the previous 17 championship navigation rallies.

Todd/Cresswell kept their promising run going in the second half, and finished on 75 marks, which was tied for 4th with Kerr/Boyd. Todd/Cresswell won out on the further cleaner rule. They won the Semi-Expert Class by quite a margin, with Clifford Auld/John Lindsay in 2nd on 137 penalties. Third were James Woods/Chris Ragg, despite failing lights when their alternator parted company from their Peugeot 205. John and Jonathan Henderson had a terrible finish to the rally, when they rolled their Talbot Sunbeam onto its roof. Thankfully neither of them were badly hurt, and despite the obvious panel damage, the car was in reasonable mechanical shape and they were able to drive home.

The Novice Class was won by Stuart/Richard Hyland (Astra), who passed their own front door during the event. Another father and son crew, George/Stephen Wallace, finished second, but only after the "further cleaner" rule was applied. This was a low scoring class, with both these crews finishing on 3 penalties. Behind them were Nigel Campbell/Colin Harkness (6 marks), Hubert Scott/Elaine Brown (13 marks) and Brian/Victoria Black (21 marks).

Keith Telford/Gary McKnight (Nova) were victorious in the Beginners Class and the Omagh Club rally school class was won by Bill/Colleen Barker.

The championship is now very tight, with four crews separated by just 2 points in the fight for the overall championship win. Interestingly, it has now been four rallies since the double champions, Phil and Alan Dorman, last won a championship rally. This is their longest drought of victories since they became the dominant force in navigation rallying. With this fact, and with a new winner in Gary Sheridan/Lloyd Cochrane, we may be in for an even closer battle for the title than we enjoyed last year.

Patrick McCollum

Posted by PMcCollum on 3/9/2008; Last updated by PMcCollum on 3/9/2008