Patrick Elliott has made rather a habit of winning in recent times. Last year he clinched the Dunlop National Rally Championship with six wins. He started 2009 in a similar vein, winning the opening round in Birr two weeks ago. And on Sunday he added the latest success to his portfolio of wins with victory on the 2009 TF Royal Hotel and Theatre Mayo Stages Rally.
Six stage wins out of eight point to a straightforward win, but it could easily have been a different story. A spin on the fifth stage resulted in a re-arranged front end to Elliott’s Subaru Impreza WRC. It cost him more time on the following stage and as a result he arrived back in final service with his once healthy lead of 19 seconds whittled down to a mere three seconds. But that was as close as it got, another brace of stage wins ensuring the Cavan driver claimed his first Mayo victory, and extended his National Championship lead.
Second was Niall Maguire in a similar car. The Monaghan man is getting used to being bridesmaid on these rallies and while a healthy score of championship points will be welcome, he will be more aware than any that he needs to break Elliott’s winning sequence sooner rather than later if he is to mount a serious title challenge.
Making it a Subaru World Rally Car 1-2-3, Kevin Barrett from Kildare will have been happy to have fought off the challenge from the new Opel Corsa Super 2000 of Gareth MacHale. For MacHale too it was a successful first outing, not only taking the Group N honours ahead of Gary Jennings but having the satisfaction of knowing that his new steed is both fast and reliable. He was hampered on the day by a low top speed in the Corsa but there is little doubt that the diminutive Super 2000 car will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
With the weather the main topic of conversation in the days immediately preceding the event, it was perhaps inevitable that, following a very heavy hailstone shower, stage one was cancelled on safety grounds. Thankfully that was the last day the elements got in the way of proceedings despite some further torrential downfalls during the day.
It was a local crew that was making the headlines early on, the Mitsubishi of Westport’s Tom Muldoon and Tommy Nugent holding an excellent sixth place overall and battling with MacHale and Jennings for the Group N lead. It went sadly wrong at the start of stage five, a blown front differential bringing an early end to an impressive drive. Another hard luck story was that of Ciaran Walsh from Ballinrobe and his Tubbercurry co-driver Aidan Gannon who broke a drive shaft on the final stage while leading their class.
Top two wheel drive finishers in seventh were Brian O’Mahony with John Higgins from Kiltimagh co-driving, while collecting the Bob Kelly Perpetual Trophy for the fastest rear wheel drive finish was Russell Woods who finished 10th overall. Taking the award for the highest placed Mayo and District Motorsport Club finishers were Sean McHugh and Michael Loughney who finished 36th overall.
The award for Drive of the Day – a special prize open to registered Hass Border Rally Championship competitors, went to Noel O’Donnell and Ronan Murrin from Donegal for their fastest time in class 12 on stage three. Another finisher of note was Shane Buckley from Ballyhaunis. Thirty first overall and victory in class three was a great result on what was only his second event in his Ford Fiesta. Other Mayo crews who finished prominently included Gerry Casey and Peter O’Toole, 39th in the black Escort, while the Subaru of Keith McFadden and Brian Harrington came home in 49th position. In 58th overall, Brendan Corcoran and David Walsh won class two in their Civic. Colin and David Loughney overcame a broken oil pump belt to finish in 62nd, Ed and John Muldoon came home in 67th, and Otto Gropler and Chrystal Culkeen finished 81st and third in class five in their Ford Ka. Marcus and Derek Molloy finished 86th with Fergal Loughney and Darren Gill home safely in 90th.
For all the difficult conditions that the drivers and co-drivers had to ensure inside the cars it was nothing compared to what faced the many marshals who helped to make this a safe and successful event. It may not have been the most pleasant of days, but once again thanks to the help of many, Mayo & District Motorsport Club ran a very successful and well organised event – one that drew praise from competitors, officials, and spectators alike.