As the 100+ crews made their way to the Drivers Briefing in the Hotel Kilmore at 9am there was a buzz in the air as people could feel the excitement and tension in the drivers as they prepared themselves for the 9 stages that lay ahead.
With the conditions being less than favourable it left tyre choices a nightmare and grip levels pretty hard to call in the Bunnoe, Kill and Shankill areas.
At number 1 on the road it was up to 5 times Cavan Stages Winner Niall Maguire to find the tough spots and try to tip toe his way through them, with Paddy Mc Veigh a late withdrawal at 2 it was left to Rodney Wilton to carry the hopes of the locals in his Mark 2 escort with Connor Mc Mahon keeping him honest. At number 4 on the door and number 3 on the road it was Stephen Mc Cann to try and guide his Evo 9 and hope to keep pace with Maguire in front.
On stage 1 it didn’t take long for the drama and surprises to unfold with Aaron Mac Hale breaking a drive off the start line of 1 and spelling retirement. Also a victim of the Bunnoe stage was local man Joe Smith, Joe the reigning club champion slid off the road and got stuck in a field. By the time he got out he was gone OTL. Niall Maguire had no problems at the head of the field and commanded a 16 second lead ahead of Mc Cann. A man who confounded the seeding committee was Micky Carbin who took his Lancer Evo 4 to an impressive 3rd overall and just 11seconds behind Mc Cann. Rodney Wilton took the lead of the two wheel drive race and placed himself 4th overall. Trevor Bustard would take the Group N lead and 5th overall. Big push on the first was from local man Justin Smyth with Sharon Clarke on the notes punched in an impressive 7th fastest on the opener, the stage suited the pinto powered cars as Brian Armstrong was on joint times with Smyth.
Onto Stage 2 and the rain started to fall again which obviously made the conditions treacherous as proven by Justin Smyth as he broke his steering arm when he slid into a bale. Class 9 was the focus on that stage too as the Sligo Pallets drive of the day was for stage 2 and class 9. With local honours at stake and a big Cavan entry for the class the competition was hot, too hot for Seamus Cooke who unfortunately slid off the road and got stuck in a drain. With local honours at stake it was Lawrence Sherry who took the Drive of the Day for the registered crews.
Stage 3 and the Maguire Express kept ploughing its way through the Shankill Cross stage extending his lead to 40 seconds. In group n it was Trevor Bustard who was laying his claim to the prize ahead of Pat Kirk. Micky Carbin lead class 20 and had a good lead after the demise of Paul Mc Cann in his Evo 9.
In the juniors by the halfway point it was Donegal man Adrian Sweeney with Gary Lockhart in their well-prepared Peugeot 207 ahead of Martin Swinburne and Keith Mc Connon in their newly acquired Twin Cam. Adam Faulkner with Brian Brady held a safe 3rd in their Honda Civic.
In the Historic it was Malcolm Pedlow in his historic BMW 2002 ti. He would come home to finish as the top Historic after the 6 stages were all said and done.
After first service it was all eyes to the front once more as Maguire and Connor Foley took up the charge at the front again. It was Trevor Bustard who overtook the Wilton car to hold 2nd overall by 2 seconds. Billy Coleman award winner Stephen Wright placed his 208 up to 9th overall just behind Local Paddy Boyle in 8th overall as Boyle started his charge to the top in what was to be one of the drives of the rally. Stage 4 was where the Mc Cann story stopped after he hit a bank and damaged the evo too badly to continue.
On stage 5 it was all ok at the front for the Maguire and Foley but the battle raged for 2nd overall between Rodney Wilton and Trevor Bustard with Wilton taking the 2 seconds back on Trevor and trying to build on the momentum to take himself into the final loop. Micky Carbin and Emmet Mc Cooey in their Evo 4 were continuing on their quest to the top. They were joined at the top by Paddy Boyle and Marty Sherlock who were well on their way to a famous result on this the 50th year of the event. Marty having been the Clerk of the Course for a number of years and still holds the record of being the youngest ever COC at the tender age of 21.
Into the final loop and once again the weather changed as it began to threaten rain as the crews made their way into stage 7. As it went the Maguire show couldn’t be stopped as he took more time out of his competitors to finish up 1 minute and 47 seconds ahead of the field. Rodney Wilton and Connor Mc Mahon pulled ahead of Trevor Bustard across the final few stages to hold a 44 second advantage but not without its final drama with Rodney having to push the car up the hill from the final control to the finish ramp after the car developed a fuel leak after an O Ring failed.
Trevor Bustard was over the moon with his 3rd place as he continues his return to form after a big accident put him and brother Kenny out of action in the 2012 Sligo Stages Rally. Trevor who will now look to the Donegal International for a big home result said the stages “were fantastic and a great challenge for man and machine and a big well done to all involved.”
Rodney Wilton was another very happy man at the finish ramp outside the Kilmore saying that “It was a tough battle all day in tough conditions.” Rodney who was the top 2 wheel drive last year goes one better this year with a 2nd overall in his pristine escort on home ground, but the day belonged to Niall Maguire and Connor Foley in their Subaru Impreza taking an impressive start to finish win. This now puts Niall up their as the most successful driver to ever compete on the event over the years with his win tally at 6 now. “Better try and make it 7 next years so” was his comment at the prize giving ceremony that night.
Other winners on the day were Russell Woods and Gary Gallagher who took the coveted Paddy Kiernan Memorial Cup for the fastest class 13 car through stage 7 on the day. The competition was unique in its layout with Paddy’s father John picking the stage on Saturday evening and sealing it in an envelope until the finish ramp when the stage was revealed to the waiting crowd. This meant that nobody knew which stage it was going to be and kept the onus on the competitors to keep the pressure on all day and to make sure they got around. Needless to say Russell and Gary were thrilled to win the award against very stiff opposition and will be back next year to defend it.
In class 11F it was Oldcastle man Chris Snow who took the win after a hard battle all day with Darren O’Brien in their duelling Civics. O’Brien suffering at the hands of a puncture on the last loop that cost him over 2 minutes which dropped him back to 2nd in the class behind Snow to complete a great return to the stages after a lengthy absents.
In Class 9 it was the old master Gene Callan with Sean Brunton who took a well-deserved win in the Noel Lappin escort. After the first two stages where they were 3rd and then 2nd in class they took the class lead on 3 and never looked back. 2nd in the class was Gene Mc Donald and Kevin Reilly who after an engine problem on the opener that cost them 3 minutes stormed back up the leader board to take a richly deserved 2nd in class.
After a long weekend’s competition it was time for Stephen Kellett and all his team to draw their breath and relax. Many compliments from the competitors about the stages used and the running of the rally itself reinforced the decision to go back to the “classic” Cavan stages. Huge thanks must be said to the event sponsors the Hotel Kilmore, Wilton Waste Recycling and Jackson’s Autoparc, to all the volunteers who without them the event couldn’t run and to the residents on the stages.