The forest roads in western Fermanagh have long been associated with being a stern test of man and machine with there numerous bumps, jumps and undulations it is a place where the brave excel and those who second guess their car’s ability get left behind in the race around the Ballintempo, Lough Navar and Big Dog forests.
Back to defend their overall victory in 2015 would be the Fiesta WRC pairing of Sam Moffett and Bailieborough man James Fulton who seem to go quite well whenever they team up taking the win last year in Enniskillen and this year’s Cavan Stages Rally win also. They would line up at number 1 but wouldn’t have it all their own way with a top 15 that boasted a number of previous champions and all had a chance of taking the win before the 8 stages would be completed.
On the opening leg across the first 4 stages it would become clear just how close the race was going to be with the top 3 being separated by a solitary second. Sam would find himself 2nd behind the Subaru of Mark Donnelly and tied with his brother Josh. Over the course of the next 3 stages Sam and James would eek out a slender 2 second lead ahead of Josh as the pair of Fiesta’s began to pull away from the rest of the field in their own battle for the win.
In the 2 wheel drive catagorey it would be Mickey Conlon and Ciaran Mc Phillips who would be charging the MC Blinds Mk2 hard after local favourite Shane Mc Girr’s Starlet. Over the opening 4 stages the pair would trade seconds with Mc Girr holding a slender 2 second lead into the first service with Conlon gearing up to launch a big attack on the 2nd half of the day. Alas it wasn’t to be with Conlon hitting a rock and breaking a wheel on the first stage after service. The time lost was enough to drop the pair way back down the order and left them to finish out the day wondering what could have been.
Having a better day in the office would be the 4 door mk2 of John Gordon and Thomas Wedlock as they continued their quest for a class win in the forestry championship. They would have a good morning going into service leading their class and lying 17th overall in amongst a lot of 4 wheel drive machinery. During the second half of the day they elected to push on in pursuit of the overall 2 wheel drive victory. A fine 3rd overall in the 2 wheel drive race and 15th overall was a good reward for a fast day in the office battling 2 much more powerful cars.
In the 1400 battle for supremacy there would be three Cavan crews in the fight, Ballyconnell based Colm Kearns and Terrence Mc Cabe would be looking to continue their run of top 3 finishes in the class in their pursuit of championship glory. Going into service they would hold 3rd in class and 2nd placed championship points but it would all come to nought on the first stage after service when they would slide off the road and get stuck spelling retirement. Anthony Masterson and Tommy Clinton wouldn’t fair much better with the pair being forced to retire on Stage 3. Gerry Hyland with Niall Mc Gaughern would be left to take up the fight to the end, 5th in class would be a just reward after a tough day in the office for the pairing.
Back at the head of the field it would be a straight fight between the two Combilift cars to the finish with Josh taking the 2 seconds back after service to leave it all square again with 3 to go. Through the finnish styled Big Dog stage with it’s numerous jumps and crests Josh would take another second back to take the lead going into the long Ballintempo stage where Sam would put in another solid run to take back 6 seconds leaving the gap down to 4 going into the final Belmore stage. With Josh throwing caution to the wind he would fight back to regain those 4 seconds to leave the pair all square at the finish. With the rules stating that in tie break situations it would be the fastest on the opening stage to decide the win it was announced that Sam and James had successfully defended their Lakelands title. A great win for the pair in tough conditions having to battle through the last mile of the last stage. This brings James Fulton’s tally of rally wins to 8 now.