Cairns/ McElhinney Blitz Bushwhacker
Round 5 of the 2014 Valvoline National Forest Rally Championship was staged in Omagh Co. Tyrone Saturday September 27th. The Bushwhacker rally hosted by Omagh Motor Club was the first Northern round of the Valvoline series and also a counting round of the Northern Championship. Given its’ huge reputation the staggering 115 entries was not surprising. The rally consisted of 11 very fast, technical and challenging stages through the Lough Bradan, Carrickaholton, Slievedoo and Killeter Forests.
Weather was fresh and breezy as competitors embarked upon stage one (Lough Bradon South). Owen Murphy/ James O’Brien ran first on the road as top seed Derek McGarrity had withdrawn. Murphy lost 20 secs on the first stage and a further 40 secs on the second arriving to service holding an uncharacteristic 79th place. His Evo 9 was on a misfire due to a coil pack failure. Martin Cairns/ Gary McElhinney (Impreza WRC) set the pace through the first two stages to hold a slender 4 sec lead at first service. Josh Moffett/ Jason McKenna (Evo 9) held second, with Desi Henry/Liam Moynihan (Evo 9) another 4 secs in arrears holding third. James Gillen/ Sarah Whelan (Impreza WRC) held fourth. All the top crews reported that the stages were very loose/ gravely with several recounting big slides.
There was a four way tie for fifth between Marty McKenna/ Martin McGarrity (Impreza WRC), Frank Kelly/ Sean Ferris (Mk2) who led the 2WD brigade, Niall McCullagh/ Ryan McCloskey (Evo 6) and Kenny McKinstry/ Kenny Hull (Impreza WRC). Enda McNulty/ Paul Sheridan (Impreza) were 9th with Mark Donnelly/ Stevie O’Hanlon (Evo 9)10th. The pace was so intense that there was only 12 secs between the top ten - a common trend on this event given the short snappy stages. Shane McGirr (Starlet) had a costly overshoot on stage one. Brendan Comiskey/ Ronan O’Kane retired on stage 2 – their Evo 9 was off at a square left and Vivian/ Paul Hamill (Mk2) were sidelined with a broken half shaft.
Josh Moffett was sensational on Glenderg (ss3) with a staggering fastest time moving into a 6 sec lead. His Evo was 8 secs up on Desi Henry with Cairns a further 2 secs back having dropped time off the start line and losing the lead. Adrian Hetherington set the 2WD pace – 2 secs faster than Frank Kelly. Seamus O’Connell (Mk2) tied with Shane McGirr 3 secs behind Kelly. Casualties included the Subaru’s of Marty McKenna and James Gillen, both slipped off at the chicane near the flying finish. Mark/ Aoife Murphy (Evo 8) went off at the same place lost over 7 mins but got going again.
Martin Cairns raised his game on ss4 Slievedoo stopping the clocks on 3.33 – 4 secs up on Moffett reducing the Monaghan man’s lead to just 2 secs. Pat O’Connell was second fastest bringing him well up the leaderboard and into contention. Kelly and Hetherington tied - such was the 2WD pace that these front runners were setting top three times overall. Desi Henry stalled on the start line losing 15 secs. Enda McNulty stalled at the final hairpin – he too dropped 15 secs.
Cairns set an astounding time of 3.38 on ss5 Carrickaholton to reclaim the lead with Moffett now 8 secs back. However the stage was cancelled after only four competing cars. Cairns continued his dominating form through stage 6 – the repeat of Loughbradan a further 5 secs up on Moffett to consolidate his advantage to 13 secs. Desi Henry tied with Josh to hold station in third. McKinstry climbed to 4th and Kelly held 5th. Stage 7 (Glendrum) was a very short blast and the top ten times were almost identical leaving the leaderboard unchanged at the final service. Seamus O’Connell and Ger/ James Lucey (Evo 8) took to the scenery at the flying finish but survived almost un-scathed.
Josh Moffett was fastest on the repeat of Glenderg (ss8), reeling back 3 secs of Cairns. The pace went up a gear on the repeat stages as drivers had a cleaner line and stage times were quicker. Desi Henry was only 1 sec off Moffett holding a solid 3rd overall. Cairns dominated ss9 (Slievedoo) consolidating his lead to 16 secs. Desi Henry was his closest pursuer while Moffett tied with McKinstry 6 secs back. Kelly and Hetherington also tied, setting the scene for a 2WD showdown on the closing stages as only 5 secs divided them.
Cairns and Mckinstry tied on the penultimate stage (Carrickaholton) with Moffett a mere second behind. The deficit was 17 secs ahead of the final stage. Pat O’Connell was fourth fastest. Desi Henry tied Owen Murphy – the Cork man clawed his way back from 79th to 16th. The 2WD battle ended on the start line of Carrickaholton as Frank Kelly retired with a broken half shaft.
The final stage Drumglen was so short that times were identical among the top six. Strabane’s Martin Cairns partnered by Donegal’s Gary McElhinney claimed a 17 sec victory on the “Omagh Grand Prix”. The pair had a trouble free run in their state of the art Impreza S14 WRC and excelled on the repeat afternoon stages. Josh Moffett/ Jason McKenna had to be content with runner up. However the Monaghan pair maintain the Championship lead on 91 points with two rounds remaining. Desi Henry/ Liam Moynihan completed the podium after showing good pace all day. Their Evo appears to be well sorted now and they are also in the championship reckoning with a total of 60 points. Kenny McKinstry/ Kenny Hull took 4th showing he hasn’t lost his flair. Pat O’Connell/ Mark Wiley were 5th, Enda McNulty/ Paul Sheridan 6th, Mark Donnelly/ Stevie O’Hanlon 7th, Adrian Hetherington/ Gary Nolan were 8th and best 2WD. Sam Moffett/ James O’Reilly (Evo 9) were 9th and Seamus O’Connell/ Emmet Sherry completed the top ten.
Shane McGirr/ Jackie Elliott were 13th and third 2WD to regain the lead in the Valvoline 2WD points. Owen Murphy/ James O’Brien recovered to 16th while this will be probably be a drop score they are still very much in the championship hunt (on 76 points) as it’s best 5 out of 7 scores to count. Niall Henry/ John Rowan (Evo 9) finished just inside the top twenty and hold third overall in the championship on 65 points. Conor McCarthy/ Dan O’Donovan (Civic) took maximum Valvoline Junior points from Shane Kenneally/ Jer Connors (Mk2).
Class 1 (GpN up to 2.0): Daryl McCanny/ Cathain Colton (205).
Class 2 (Gp N over 2.0): Sam Moffett/ James O’Reilly (Evo 9).
Class 3 (Up to 1600 8v): Jordan/ Paul Hone (Micra).
Class 4 (1600 16v): Niall Donnelly/ Eamon Gallagher (Escort).
Class 5 (2000 8v): Paddy McToal/ Conor O’Loan (Escort).
Class 6 (2000 16v): Shane McGirr/ Jackie Elliott (Starlet).
Class 7 (Over 2100): Adrian Hetherington/ Gary Nolan (Escort).
Class 8 (WRC's): Kenny McKinstry/ Kenny Hull (Impreza).
Class 9 (4WD): Pat O’Connell/ Mark Wiley (Evo 9).
Class 11 (Historics): Raymond/ Marc Johnston (Escort).
Valvoline Championship Standings
Josh Moffett: 91 points
Owen Murphy: 76 points
Niall Henry: 65 points.
Desi Henry: 60 points.
2 Rounds remaining, Carrick on Suir Sunday October 12th & Glens of Antrim Saturday November 8th.
7 Rounds, Best 5 scores to count.