The 2009 rally season has kicked off in earnest with last week-end’s running of the Birr Stages Rally, the opening round of the Dunlop National Rally Championship.
And with the Mayo Stages Rally less than two weeks away, the focus now switches firmly to the west of Ireland, as excitement mounts for the running of the hugely popular local event, which this year takes place on March 8. A full preview of the 2009 Mayo Stages Rally will appear in next week’s paper.
As always, a number of local drivers and co-drivers were competing on the Birr Stages, which was won by reigning National Champion Patrick Elliott ahead of England’s Jim Harrison. Leading the Mayo contingent home were Bekan’s Sean McHugh with Michael Loughney from Killala co-driving, Sean is delighted that his fabulous sounding BMW M3 Compact is now running in top condition ahead of his local event. A very creditable 50th overall and fifth in the ultra-competitive class 14 was their reward for a trouble free day.
Also very happy with their day’s rallying were Otto Gropler from Killala and Chrystal Kulkeen from Castlebar who finished second in class five in their diminutive Ford Ka.
Hard luck story of the day must have been Brian O’Mahony and his Kiltimagh co-driver John Higgins. They had been running in the top 10 all day, comfortably leading all the two wheel drive competitors in their Renault Clio S1600, only to run out of petrol just before the end of the final stage.
Gerry Casey from Castlebar and Peter O’Toole from Claremorris had also been running well in their class 13 Ford Escort before being sidelined with alternator problems on the final test. Keith McFadden from Castlebar and Brian Harrington from Kilkelly only made it as far as stage four before retiring, but at least they saw some competitive action unlike Achill/Killala pairing Ciaran Kennedy and Paul McGinnis, whose Honda Civic broke a drive shaft on the way to the first stage.