High speed action and drama will be the order of the day this weekend, as the best drivers and co-drivers in the country head westwards to battle for glory on the 2009 TF Royal Hotel and Theatre Mayo Stages Rally.
Despite these recessionary times, the rally has attracted a near capacity entry, with in excess of 130 competitors due to take the start. The Mayo Stages Rally is once again part of three major series – the Dunlop National Rally Championship, the Border Rally Championship - which this year welcomes a new title sponsor in the form of Donegal based Henderson Auto Sport and Spares (HASS ), and the 205 Challenge.
Clerk of the course Jonathan Rice and his experienced team of officials have spent the last number of months hard at work preparing for this major sporting occasion. The result is a mouth-watering selection of stages that will test competitors to the limits, while showcasing some of the most beautiful scenery the county can provide. Using roads over the Sheeffry Hills and Partry Mountains in the south of the county, a total of eight stages run over three tests provide a total of 118km stage distance, enough to ensure plenty of thrills and spills before a winner is declared back at rally headquarters on Sunday evening.
Thanks to sponsors
Title sponsor of the rally is once again the TF Royal Hotel and Theatre in Castlebar, which is also the rally headquarters for the weekend. Over the past number of years the TF has become well established as a firm favourite with rally competitors, and the club wishes to thank Pat Jennings and all the staff at the TF for their help and assistance in running this major sporting occasion. Mayo and District Motorsport Club would also like to thank all the sponsors who have supported the running of this rally, in particular the stage sponsors Casey Autoworld Castlebar and Ballina, West Tyre of Ballinrobe, and Carney’s Quarry of Aughagower.
A full day’s rallying
The action gets under way on Sunday March 8 with the first competitors leaving the TF at 9am before tackling the first loop of three stages. Crews will then head for service, which is located in the Westport area, before tackling the same three stages a second time. After another refettle in service, final runs over the first and third stages in the loop will see the rally return to the TF in time to declare a winner at around 5.45 pm.
2008 saw local success with Mayo and District Motorsport Club members Aaron MacHale and Killian Duffy recording a memorable victory. They are not competing this year, however much interest will focus on Aaron’s brother and number one seed Gareth MacHale, who debuts a new Opel Corsa Super 2000 in Mayo. This fabulous sounding machine, which competes in the Group N Showroom category, is the latest of a new breed of rally car, a variation of which is tipped to take over from the current World Rally Cars in 2010. He may find it difficult to challenge for overall victory but you can be sure Gareth will be pushing the little Opel to the limit over the Mayo stages.
Behind Gareth is a trio of Subaru WRC drivers who look set to fight it out for championship honours this year. Leading the challenge will be reigning National Rally Champion Patrick Elliott. The Cavan man has never won in Mayo but in the past year has become the man to beat at national level. Victory on the opening round of the championship in Birr two weeks ago underlines his determination to claim back-to-back championships. Running at three is former multiple champion Niall Maguire. The popular Monaghan driver has already won in Mayo in 2002 and 2004, and would dearly love to claim a hat-trick of victories. Behind Maguire is Kildare’s Kevin Barrett, sure to be close by to pick up the challenge for victory should the leading drivers falter. The Group N battle for showroom specification cars also promises plenty of action with Anthony O’Halloran from Clare hoping to build on his recent success in Birr. He faces strong opposition from the likes of Gary Jennings, Sean Flanagan, and last year’s winner Danny McBride. Meanwhile the modified runners will be putting on a show as always, with the Escorts of Trevor Mulligan and Russell Woods leading the fray.
Local competitors to the fore
Needless to say, many local competitors will be hoping to bring glory to Mayo on their local event. John Higgins from Kiltimagh is the highest seeded local co-driver at number 8 sitting alongside Brian O’Mahony in a Renault Clio Super 1600. At 17 Westport’s Tom Muldoon and Tommy Nugent will be hoping to mix it with the leading Group N runners, while at 33, Gerry Casey from Castlebar, sponsor of stages one, four, and seven, pits his Escort against the rapid opposition. Other quick local competitors in Escorts included James Culliney from Bekan and Colin Loughney from Killala at numbers 42 and 46 respectively, while watch out for club chairman Sean McHugh’s BMW M3 at 48.
But that’s just a sample of the many local competitors taking part; full details of all the crews, stage times, and locations are included in the rally programme which will be on sale from Friday evening at all major service stations and shops in the Castlebar and Westport regions.
To run a major event like the Mayo Stages Rally is a major undertaking, requiring the help of a large numbers of helpers. Mayo and District Motorsport Club is looking for additional marshals to ensure a successful running of the event. If you would like to help out, contact chief marshal Dave Muldoon on 086 603 3510 – your assistance will be greatly appreciated.
For spectators intending to visit the rally, plenty of time should be allowed to get to the stages to park and find a safe viewing location, as some of the stages have only limited access. Always obey the marshals and follow their instructions, as they are there to ensure that everyone has a safe day’s rallying.