IT was a historic day for Irish rallying yesterday as the Welsh crew ofMel Evans/Patrick Walsh (Subaru) became the first overseas crew to win the Dunlop National Rally Championship.
Third-place on the Ennis-based Irish Court Hotels Clare Rally was enough to claim the Vard Memorial Trophy. The rally, that developed into an exciting contest between the Subaru WRC’s of Derek McGarrity and Tim McNulty was won the latter, who took victory by just seven seconds.
Somewhat uncertain as to whether he should prioritise his Dunlop title ambitions or have a battle with the opposition, Evans headed the pack after the opening stage close to Kilfenora. A two-second gain over McGarrity with McNulty a further five seconds behind proved he could do both.
However, on the remaining pair of stages, he seemed to slacken his pace. McGarrity was quickest through the second test and duly took up the lead role – six seconds in front of both McGarrity and Evans. Then, McNulty, who admitted he was too cautious on the opening stages, set a very quick pace on SS 3, indeed, the Meath ace was the only driver to break the nine minute barrier, as he joined McGarrity at the top. Evans was quite content to hold third and stated that he was concentrating on his Dunlop ambitions.
Cork driver, Daragh O’Riordan, who had some brake problems, slotted his Subaru into fourth – 48 seconds off the lead. An incorrect tyre selection by Niall Maguire did little to help his title bid, the pre-event leader, was third of the contenders – 29 seconds behind Evans and 40 adrift of McGarrity.
Wesley Patterson dominated the two-wheel drive category, he held a fine sixth overall but Declan Boyle crashed his Escort on the second stage.
Kevin Barrett (Subaru) held seventh; Anthony O’Halloran led the Group N category in a top 10 that also included the Subaru of Shane Maguire and the Escort of Mike Quinn.
McGarrity moved into a four second lead after the crews completed the fourth stage while the Antrim driver set the same time as McNulty on the fifth test. The organisers had to cancel the sixth stage where a resident was facilitated for family reasons.
Meanwhile, third placed Evans said, “It’s tricky in places, I have backed of a bit, if we continue that way we are going, we should be alright.”
Maguire continued to struggle with tyre selection as O’Riordan increased his pace. Patterson was untroubled as he led the Modified category. There was no change to the remainder of the top ten.
It looked good for McGarrity when he extended his lead to six seconds upon the completion of SS 7. But a spin on the penultimate test allowed McNulty to take full advantage, the Meath driver entered the final test with a lead of just two seconds. In no mood to relinquish his position, McNulty powered his Subaru though the test around Ruane and emerged victorious by a seven second margin.
A calm Evans cruised home in third to lift the Vard Memorial Trophy, at the Ennis finish, he said, “We were happy to set the quickest time on the first stage, we had a few moments, so I decided to back off and concentrate on the Dunlop series. After that, it was middle of the road, braking early and keeping it tidy. It’s been a brilliant year, initially, we had only intended on doing a few rounds. It’s great to be the first overseas driver to win the championship.”
Niall Maguire and Daragh O’Riordan, despite a brief off road excursion on the penultimate test completed a Subaru lock out of the top five places.
Wesley Patterson was a runaway winner of the Modified category, the Lisburn man also finished sixth in general classification. The local crew of Anthony O’Halloran/Charlie McEnery (Mitsubishi) won the Group N showroom category, rally.ie front runner, Sean Flanagan finished 41st. after his Subaru punctured twice on the opening loop. The final places in the top ten went to Pat Kirk (Mitsubishi) and Shane Maguire (Subaru).
In Brands Hatch, Cork driver, Matt Griffin and Briton, Mark Cameron took a class victory in and a third in class in the GT Open double header at the Kent circuit.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved