The Glens of Antrim Forest Rally, the final round of the 2016 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship once again provided a fine finale to an excellent season on the gravel. It proved to be a dream day for Desi Henry, not only winning his home round, but clinching the 2016 title. “I am absolutely delighted to win the Glens of Antrim rally and to win the championship today. I can’t believe it, it’s been one of the longest rallies in my life! A massive thanks to the team and to Liam Moynihan who is undoubtedly one of the best navigators around. Thanks also to my sponsors for their support, the championship sponsors, TV crews, organisers, marshals etc. for a great years rallying, and to my family and friends for putting up with me during the highs and lows” said the new champion.
It wasn’t the full story of course of the rally, as although Desi in the Skoda R5 was fastest on stage one; it was Josh Moffett who took the lead in the Fiesta R5 after a superb run through the famous Slieveanorra stage. Indeed Josh was to hold a narrow six second lead over Desi arriving at first service, where he was contacting brother Sam, who had slid off the road and out of the rally on the third Ballypatrick stage. It was one of those days for the Monaghan team however as next it was Josh’s turn to retire on the second run over Slieveanorra. “We just used the cut on the tarmac section, but it had become a lot deeper, and when we came out of the cut we got two punctures. That was it really” said Josh. That left Desi with a comfortable advantage over second placed Adrian Hetherington who was happy at the finish. “I think we matched Desi on a couple of stages there, so I’m delighted with that” said Adrian.
Third overall and clinching a fabulous second in the championship was Ger Lucey, despite a major moment on the first loop, which left the Evo 8 with a dented driver’s door and marelled glass. “We were lucky with that it could have been a lot worse” said Ger. “We came over a crest too fast and couldn’t slow properly before a square left and hit the bank. It’s been a challenging day, great stages and good to get home. I’ve really enjoyed the season though- it’s been brilliant!” said the elated Macroom driver. Michael Carbin in his Evo 4 could have possibly deprived Ger of second place, but he slid off on the third test, whilst Jonny Leonard started the retirement’s list as the transfer box on his Evo 6 expired on the way to stage one. Other retirements included Niall Henry with a broken steering arm in the Evo 10, and championship class winner Ruari Maguire who’s Corsa shed a wheel.
Tyrone driver Darren McKelvey with Graham Henderson co-driving clocked up fifth in their Evo 9, despite Darren claiming to have been driving like a granny on the first loop. “I just couldn’t get it going” said Darren who collected top honours in class 20 in the championship. “It’s not the car but me, but the second loop was better.” Ashley Dickson took Group N honours in his Evo 9, with Ed Muldoon second registered Group N competitor home, meaning that he took the Valvoline class title. “I’ve never driven as slowly to take second placed points!” said Ed. “We had to borrow a car today and just do what we had to. Delighted though to take the class- a great championship, and hopefully be back again next year.”
The Valvoline two-wheel battle was a tense one as Shane McGirr needed a decent finish to wrap up the category, and started well, jointly in the lead with David Crossen at first service. David was revelling in his MK2 Escort on the slippery stages, eventually taking victory and fourth place overall. “We had a good start this time, and put a push on the second loop, especially through Slieveanorra. It was interesting especially on the fast straights- the car was moving about a lot, but it’s brilliant to get this result for us” said the Comber driver. Mickey Conlon took a while to warm up, but claimed third two wheel drive and ninth overall. “It just took time after the off in Limerick to get into it again” said the Castleblayney man, and John Gordon just ten seconds behind also had a tricky first loop. “I stalled it about four times. We have new brake pads in, and I’ve never had this problem before, but I wasn’t really on song in the morning either” explained the jovial Co. Down man, who had already wrapped up class twelve in the series. However the day belonged to Shane McGirr, who had to cruise through the final stage with a broken rear shock absorber to take the coveted 2wd title. “Absolutely delighted” said the Fivemiletown driver. “Such a tricky rally, and then with the banging of that shocker towards the end it was not a straight-forward day. To get the championship means a lot though, and it’s thanks to the team, sponsors and good co-driver’s also.”
Winner of the rallytrader.ie/ Kumho tyres Junior category, collecting two Kumho Tyres from Ears Motorsport Ireland was Derek Mackeral in his Vauxhall Nova, which just about made the finish! “We broke the rotor arm on stage one and had to change it, taking a stage maximum, and then the front left wheel broke up on the final test and again we took a stage max. We were surprised to get the result with those delays but it’s good and to win the tyres- a big help” said Derek. Second on this occasion was James Driver who is adapting to his more powerful 206 Peugeot. Stephen Dickson as the class champion in the R2 Fiesta, but was hobbling about the service area after twisting his ankle jumping off a tractor, and didn’t take the start. His brother Jason also tied up class two in the ST Fiesta, making it a successful season for the Omagh family. Other driver’s wrapping up their class in the championship included Paul McCann, winning class fifteen in his venerable Escort Cosworth. “My first ever season in the forests and loved it. Wish I had of done it year’s ago. I’ll be back next year- and put the right foot down harder!” Ruari Maguire claimed class nine in his nimble Corsa, Brian Little- class ten with his MK2 Escort, David Condell (MK2 Escort)- class fourteen, and Barry Mahon (Honda Civic) class eleven F.
What a year it’s been for the Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship, which has seen increased competitor support, and excellent camaraderie through-out the seven events- now spread out over the country. Now it’s party time where all the awards are handed out at the official prize-giving in Tullamore on the 26th November.