Bailieborough man James Fulton embarked on an epic adventure this week as he partnered Josh Moffett in their European Rally Championship campaign which would see the pairing start their quest in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on the Azores Rally.
James would be placed firmly in the deep end as he boarded the plane. This would be his first event overseas along with being the first time he has sat with Josh on a gravel event. This event would also mark a return to the island for Josh having crashed out of the event 2 years previously it would be a case of unfinished business with eyes firmly set on a top 5 position if all goes well.
Lining up on the Thursday afternoon the tension would be palpable in the Combilift car with the pair seeded tenth on the road in a plethora of R5 cars with no less than 29 taking the start in Ponta Delgada many miles from the green lanes of county Cavan. A steady start airing on the side of caution would see the fiesta open it’s account in 20th place overall after the first main stage they would climb their way up to 10th overall by the end of the first day.
As Friday dawned the event would start to bear it’s teeth to the competitors with a number of the leading crews encountering troubles. Friday would also present the showpiece stage on the event, Sete Cidades has a unique quality over it’s 25kms as it runs around the mouth of an active volcano as the crews slide around on the dusty gravel/ dirt mixture roads on a knife edge hundreds of feet up in the clouds at times it is not for the feint of heart or wary of heights. Handbrake issues would hamper Moffett and Fulton and they would only make inroads on the top 10 later in the day over the second loop of stages to finish out the 2nd day of action in a very credible 6th overall and a very real possibility of a podium finish on the cards.
The final morning would bring a drivers worst nightmare in the form of fog, and lots of it with the crews complaining that they couldn’t see 5 meters in front of them cohesion of driver and navigator would be crucial to ensure a finish never mind a good time. Over the opening stages of the morning Moffett and Fulton elected to box clever keeping their noses clean and a good rhythm would ensure they would overhaul Russian driver Nikolay Grayzin to hit their pre event target of 5th place overall with 3 stages to go.
On the next stage more good news as local driver Ricardo Moura would stop in the stage with mechanical failure the Combilift car would suddenly find itself on the cusp of a historic podium. Czech driver Jan Cerny a household name in the European Championship would stand between them and a 3rd place. Piling on the pressure over the next 21 km stage again in dense fog they forced an error from the Czech as he would roll out of the event and with 1 stage to go the Monaghan/Cavan duo would find themselves comfortably occupying the 3rd step of the podium in a dream result for an international debut and redemption for Moffett who would right the wrongs of 2 years ago.
“We were delighted to get 3rd in what was a truely demanding and testing event between the conditions to the weather to the competition this result was hard earned.” Says Fulton who admires the latest trophy to his collection that includes his overall winners trophy from last year’s Cavan Stages Rally. This result places the pairing firmly in the hunt for the ERC win now in 3rd place with the next round in the Canaries in May it will be a bit more like home back on tarmac.