Sixth place was enough on Saturday’s Bushwhacker Rally to give Sam Moffett and Stephen Thornton in their Ford Fiesta WRC the coveted 2017 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship title, for both driver and co- driver.
In a measured drive, the Monaghan driver lifted the Doc Jackson Memorial Trophy and took his second major title of the season, with a possibility of wrapping up a third next weekend in Cork. “The stages were great today, but we had to stay sensible and get home to the finish with a few points, so we had to stay out of the race on this rally. To clinch the championship is brilliant, and it’s been a great year, a great series, and for Stephen to get the co- drivers title is an extra bonus” said Sam. With Ger Lucey non-starting, second in the series went to two-wheel drive champion David Crossen with Lucey third after another strong season in his Evo 8.
Winner over the six stages laid on by the Omagh Motor Club was last year’s champion Desi Henry in his Skoda Fabia R5, twenty-seven seconds ahead of Jonny Greer’s R5 Citroen, who in turn was four seconds ahead of impressive Scottish visitor Jock Armstrong in his Subaru. Local driver Paul Barrett was a fine fourth in a hired Evo 9, ahead of Derek McGarrity’s R5 Skoda. Sam Moffett took sixth ahead of Alan Carmichael’s Mini WRC, with Alan Smyth’s Evo eighth and a relieved Adrian Hetherington ninth in the right-hand drive R5 Fiesta. “It’s the first proper day I have got to learn this car, and it is very different to anything else, even under braking and the way you apply the hand-brake for the tight chicanes. A day of learning is what it’s been” commented Adrian who claimed seventh in the championship. Retirements included the Mitsubishi of Mark Donnelly on stage two and Martin Cairns who put the Fiesta WRC off the road on stage one.
A fine tenth place overall for Niall McCullagh and first in Group N leader was still not enough to give him the Group N title. That honour went to Jordan Hone with father Paul in the co-drivers seat. It wasn’t clear-cut as Jordan’s Evo 9 was struck with gear selector trouble on stage one. “It wasn’t looking too good at one point, but thanks to Niall Henry and the McCourt’s assistance we made it into service.” Indeed Jordan’s eventual fourth place in Group N was enough to secure the 2017 title. Second on Saturday was Belfast’s Liam Regan who is getting used to his new Evo 9, and Cathan McCourt ended up third despite a stage two spin and the car cutting out on a stage, whilst brother Conor had intercom trouble in his similar machine. Ashley Dickson got caught out with a chicane on stage two but recovered to finish the event even with a big scare on the final stage.
In the Valvoline two-wheel race, David Crossen powered his 2 litre MK2 Escort into eighth overall after two stages, and led Frank Kelly’s bigger engine MK2 by seven seconds, but Frank’s rally was over at the end of stage four with mechanical maladies, and David eased off to claim sixteenth place and first two-wheel drive. “We had a good start on stage one, and on stage two, although we had a moment when the car leapt out of a rut, so it was time to go a little easier. It’s been a brilliant championship, and brilliant to get six 2 wheel drive wins from six starts, so a big thanks to everyone who helped for that “ said the Comber engineer. Vivian Hamill went off the road, and Donall Sweeney retired on stage five, so the second place went to Oran Donnelly who was enjoying being back in the forests with his Escort. Third was former champion Mickey Conlon despite over-heating issues with the MK2 all day. Fourth was the BMW of Damien McGuaran just six seconds ahead of Owen McMackin’s MK2, who was just ahead of class five winner Hugh McQuaid’s eight valve MK2.
The Valvoline Junior Section was as ever closely fought and winner on the day was Derek Mackeral in the Vauxhall Nova, continuing his good form from the Lakeland Rally. The class 16 championship was to be decided however and Omagh’s Stephen Dickson emerged as the champion for the second season in the R2 Fiesta after a third-place finish behind the hard trying Johnnie Mulholland. Mallow’s Jonny O’Sullivan had the disappointment of retiring his Fiesta after service with mechanical woes, but then the elation at the finish of clinching second in the Junior championship, and more importantly first Motorsport Ireland licensed driver which nets him an automatic Billy Coleman Award nomination.
Again we would like to give special thanks to all our championship sponsors for their help this season– Valvoline, Andrew Fanning Motor Factors, M. O’Brien Plant Hire, Suirway Group Forklifts & Farm Machinery, Jelf Motorsport Insurance, Exact Signs & Graphics, Pottinger Machinery, Ears Motorsport / Kumho Tyres, Colton Pump & Heating Services, Coillte, Concept Fire Services Ltd, Gordon Automotive Services, Barron Pix & SVS Incar Cameras.
It’s been quite a season in 2017 for the Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship, and the Bushwhacker event with its 109 starters provided a fitting finale to an action-packed forestry year. With plans already in place for 2018, the championship looks to be continually growing, as the next big event is the annual prizegiving on 25th November at the Bridge House – Tullamore.
2017 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship-Round 6 Results
1st Desi Henry / Liam Moynihan Škoda Fabia R5
2nd Jonathan Greer / Kirsty Riddick Citroën DS3 R5 +0:27
3rd Jock Armstrong / Graham Henderson Subaru Impreza +0:31
4th Paul Barrett / Gary McElhinney Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +0:43
5th Derek McGarrity / James O Reilly Škoda Fabia R5 +0:49
6th Sam Moffett / Stephen Thornton Ford Fiesta WRC +0:57
7th Alan Carmichael / Ivor Lamont MINI WRC
8th Alan Smyth / Mac Kierans Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +1:19
9th Adrian Hetherington / Gary Nolan Ford FIesta R5 +1:33
10th Niall McCullagh / Ryan McCloskey Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +1:35
2017 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship- Final Provisional Points
1st Sam Moffett 97
2nd David Crossen 76
3rd Gerard Lucey 74
4th Jonny Leonard 66
5th Josh Moffett 63
6th Jordan Hone 56
7th Adrian Hetherington 53
8th Mickey Conlon 50
9th Liam Regan 50
10th Enda McCormack 49