The 2017 Hotel Kilmore Cavan stages rally was always going to be an event of interest for the Irish rally fraternity with the current insurance crisis in the sport deepening and with numbers of entrants down on previous years it was with an air of relief that clerk of the course Stephen Kellett and his team announced an entry of over 110 on paper it was a collective sigh of relief as the rally would go ahead and showcase once more the fantastic selection of roads in the region this year focusing on the Miltown, Kildallen, Killeshandra areas which have produced great entertainment for crews and spectators alike in the past.
For this year two new sponsors were taken on board to run alongside Wilton Waste Recycling as associate sponsors, Brady’s Skoda in Cavan and Finish Line a new range of products from the Cootehill based Abcon Company would ensure that the best possible quality was brought to the event.
With the crews assembled over the final weekend of May this year brought a little something extra for the competitors who had travelled from as far afield as Australia to compete. The shakedown stage allowed the teams to test their cars over a 3km stage under full rally rules 3 times each to ensure that all was working correctly and to knock any rust of their driving style after a bit of a layoff, some longer than others. With 49 crews taking advantage of the free seat time on Saturday night the cars were tucked in for the night at the back of the Kilmore with Donegal man Declan Boyle set to open the show Sunday morning.
With dawn brought the promise of a dry sunny day which was a small contrast to Saturday evening. As the crews lined up at the front of the Kilmore the battle between Boyle and Kesh man Garry Jennings would be the main attraction as both men were hoping to cement their challenge for the Donegal rally in June. Boyle hoping to repeat his 2013 win where he went on to win his home international being the 4th man to achieve this double header with Andrew Nesbitt achieving this feat in 1997, James Cullen in 1999 and Tim Mc Nulty in 2011.
On the opening loop the first shock would come from late entrant Draperstown man Marty Mc Cormack who was also in the process of gathering seat time in his Skoda Fabia R5 ahead of his trip to Belgium in June for the next round of the British Rally Championship. With the fast flowing stages suiting the rhythm welcoming R5 car he would take the lead on the opening stage and consolidate this over the tight and twisty second stage to hold a 7 second lead over Boyle. A spin on the 3rd stage dropped 15 seconds and moved him back to 2nd overall and back into a battle with Jennings in his Subaru as he looked to get from being the meat in an R5 sandwich as the day went on. In the 2 wheel drive battle Ryan Loughran would hold an early lead before mechanical difficulties dropped him way back. Gary Kiernan would then take the lead heading into first service as he would look to take the Joe Mc Gurk memorial trophy for top class 14 car home. In group n Strabane’s Aidan Wray would hold the advantage from Trevor Bustard with Cathan Mc Court in 3rd place just outside the top 10.
Of the local crews Mickey Conlon and Ciaran Mc Phillips would hold a commanding lead over Peter Wilson in the class 13 race for the Paddy Kiernan memorial trophy in his mark 2 escort. 3rd in that battle would be Paul Clarke and Phillip Mc Entee who were trying to stave off the interests of the 1600 returnee Mark Wedlock with Lois Branyan they would hold a commanding lead over the 1600 runners as they would make a charge into the top 20.
The middle loop would consist of only stages 4 and 6 as the remanence of a late run stage 2 crash wouldn’t have been cleared up in time to run stage 5. Over the course of those 2 stages the Boyle cousins would extend their advantage out front hoping the state of the art Fiesta WRC wouldn’t suffer the same dramas as last year when it stopped on the road out to stage 7 whilst leading. Jennings would take up station in 2nd place ahead of Mc Cormack who hadn’t given up hope yet. Swann’s Cross man Stephen Wright would remain 4th with Gary Kiernan fending off the interests of Ryan Loughrann in the race for the top 2 wheel drive car home with Adrian Hetherington long-time supporter of the Cavan rally settled into 7th place not far behind the battling pair. Mickey Conlon would move firmly into the top 10 in 8th with Group n leader Aidan Wray not far behind.
In the classes the battles would rage throughout the field with some new names and faces joining the ranks and impressing in the process. In class 1 Martin Geraghty with Adrian Beattie on the notes would take the win ahead of Leitrim man Stephen Reynolds and Derek Mc Carthy. In class 2 James Wilson and Gavin Doherty would take their Peugeot 208 R2 to the class win ahead of local crew Philip Smith and Daniel Byrne in their Civic. They would finish ahead of Ronan Denning and Karl Egan in the little 106. Class 3 saw the rare Honda Civic R3 of Adrian Cannon with Ivan Hernon finish on top ahead of Johnny Orr and Bernard Gallagher in their older Civic with Roger Kennedy and Wendy Blackledge who continue their partnership in the Peugeot 306 after 9 years as a team. Class 4 and the group n battle would go down to the wire with forestry man Cathan Mc Court taking the win with Cork’s Grace O’Brien calling the notes in their Evo 9 keeping a clean pair of heels as the day went on as they were chased down by returning local man Willie Fannin with Darra Mullen on the notes in his Subaru. Donegal man Trevor Bustard would finish the day 3rd in the class with John Mc Cafferty. Class 5 and with Marty Mc Cormack taking an overall podium placing at the end it would be Stephen Wright with Arthur Kierans who would take the class win ahead of returning Longford ex pat Paul Rowley with Brian Doherty in his Citroen DS3 making the trip home from New York worthwhile once more. Class 9 would be a good day for the local men with Damien O’Reilly surviving a last minute navigator swap with Thomas Wedlock stepping in to the fray to bring home a class win ahead of Seamus Cooke and Jim Reilly who make their return to competition after a bit of a break. Colm Kearns with Liam Mc Intyre would make good a bit of local knowledge to come home 3rd in the class at the end of the day. Class 10 would see Oldcastle man Leonard Tuite with Niall Farrelly take the class win ahead of Anthony Mc Donald with Michael Donnellan on his debut in the little Nova putting in a mature performance with not drama to report. In big drama would be the other Nova of Monaghan men Mickey and Ryan Brennan as their Nova would break a drive shaft on stage 8 and grind to a halt forcing the crew to make road side repairs with the help of fellow victim of the drivetrain fairies Peter Wilson. Class 11F saw John Mc Cabe and Jenna Mc Cann leading the class before going off the road on stage 7. Brian Quigley and Seamus Mc Tigue would be delighted to swoop in and take the class win ahead of Christopher Brennan and Martin Hughes in their Civic with Sligo brothers Tony and Kevin O’Brien taking the 3rd spot in the class. In class 11R it would be a good day for Maudabawn man Mark Wedlock as he would be reunited with his trusty 1600 escort and would put it to good use cutting a path down through the twisty lanes with Lois Branyan on the notes to take the class win ahead of Seamus Connolly and Gary Mc Crudden in their Corolla. A good run for Tim Flood with Anthony Smith debuting on the notes would net them 3rd in the class in their hired escort mk2. Class 15 would see Leitrim man Colm Flannagan and Barry Mc Loughlin survive some final stage mechanical dramas to take the class win in their Evo 7. Class 18 in the historics would see Malcolm Pedlow with Ivan Ferguson bring the super cool BMW 2002 home to take the class win. In class 19 Ronan Campbell with Paul Corry would continue tradition of being the crowd favourite as they drifted their way round the county in their BDA engine mk2. Their reward would be a class win. Class 20 saw Declan Mc Crory with Graham Henderson on the notes guide the seriously developed Lancer Evo 10 around the lanes of west Cavan to net the class win. In the juniors it would be a tough battle all day with the quality of competitors showing through in the overall times. Armagh man Jason Black with Jack Mc Kenna would settle into a comfortable lead in the morning loop in the Toyota Starlet as they would start to set top 20 times on their way to a Junior win or so they thought with the starlet leaving the road on stage 6 and getting beached they lost a lot of time getting back on the road and dropped back to 3rd overall at the finish. Taking full advantage of this would be Teighearnan Kelly with his brother Donal on the notes on his first event as he would start his career off with a win in his Honda. Sligo man Sean Maloney would finish the day 2nd overall in his Corolla with Shane Barry calling the notes. The Pinto Challenge this year would present a very level playing field and the potential for a tight battle for top honours. For top seeds James Cassidy and Declan Smith their day would be all too short suffering a mechanical failure on the start line of the opening stage they called it a day. With William Armstrong and Philip Armstrong taking up the mantle at the front they would eke out a small lead ahead of Hugh Mc Quaid and Aine Mc Guigan over the opening stages with Joe and Alanna Smith in 3rd place. On the 3rd stage we would lose Mc Quaid leaving the road and getting stuck which promoted Fermanagh brothers Michael and Paul Mc Daid into second place with Sligo man Colin Currid and Paul Gallagher in 3rd. On the second loop Joe Smith would fight his way back in front of Currid to take 3rd in the class once more with Bryan Jardine now hassling Currid for 4th place. There would be a big change to the order on the 6th stage with the Armstrongs disappearing off the timesheets and with Smith overhauling Mc Daid we would have a Cavan leader with 3 stages to go. Over the final 3 stages stations would remain the same with Jardine edging out Currid for 3rd in the class at the end of the day it would finish with Joe and his niece Alanna taking a very popular local win in his trusty black beauty mk2 ahead of the Fermanagh brothers of Michael and Paul Mc Daid with Ballygawley’s Bryan Jardine and Declan Mc Kenna in 3rd.
The Paddy Kiernan Cup for the highest placed class 13 runner would be another close run thing with a number of local crews having the capability and machinery to do the job with Mickey Conlon heading up the race in his MC Blinds escort he would be pushed hard by Peter Wilson and Paul Clarke. Over the opening loop Conlon would push his car to the limit taking chunks of time out of his opposition in a determined and focused attack to try and demoralise the opposition before lunchtime. Clarke was settling into 3rd place and just happy to be there having a big moment over the bridge on stage 2 was keeping ahead of Gerard Mc Quaid in 4th place. Over the middle loop not much would change only we would lose Jason Roche as he would suffer mechanical maladies. Conlon would have a 32 second lead going into the final loop with Wilson piling on the pressure it would all come to nought as he would damage his Diff over a jump on stage 8 and end his and Karen Kelly’s day thinking of what could have been. No such issues for Conlon who would blast through the final stage picking up another top 10 time to really seal what had been an impressive performance by himself and Ciaran Mc Phillips as they took the coveted cup home to keep it in the club and adding his name to Gary Kiernan’s and Russell Woods’ on one of the most sought after prizes in Irish rallying.
The Joe Mc Gurk trophy for Class 14 is another coveted cup that honours another much loved competitor who was taken from us all too early. And with the class 14 line up this year reading like a who’s who of Irish rallying it was going to be a hot and heavy pace from the word go. A very heavy start for Damien Tourish as he would lose control and crash heavily not far into stage 1 blocking the stage temporarily meaning most of the top crews would receive Gary Kiernan’s time on that opener. On stage 2 Ryan Loughran would make his intentions known as he would carve out a slender margin over Adrian Hetherington and Kiernan with the 3 drivers separated by just half a second after 12km’s of flat out driving. On stage 3 Kiernan would take the advantage as he would go 5 seconds faster than everyone on the fast and flowing roads south of Killeshandra to hold what would be the biggest margin so far. After the opening service Kiernan with Ryan Moore keeping him honest would really get into his stride and prove why he is one of the fastest escort drivers in the country today. Loughran and Hetherington would slip back a little into the clutches of seasoned competitors David Armstrong as they would battle it out for the 2nd place in the class. This battle would continue into the afternoon with Hetherington moving ahead of Loughran with 2 stages remaining. With Kiernan and Moore relaxing to a controlled pace to take no risks on the final stage it would be Adrian Hetherington who would finish ahead of Ryan Loughran at the end. Kiernan would take the top 2 wheel drive honours on the day with 5th overall whilst running with local sponsor Sean Brady Engineering on his car up past Sean’s house on stage 2.
Back out in front with 3 to go the battle for 2nd would go right down to the wire with Mc Cormack taking a second out of Jennings on stage 7 to move back into 2nd behind Boyle. Stephen Wright would keep pace in 4th and keep out of trouble to gain miles in his Fiesta R5. A big push from Jennings on the penultimate stage would see the pair dead level going into the final stage. With the WRC cars having the advantage on the final stage’s more fast and flowing character Jennings made it pay by carving a solitary second out of Mc Cormack to clinch 2nd place and start his warm up for Donegal in good form. “Yeah they were tight and tricky in places, especially in the Subaru but I like that kind of stuff. Credit to the club for a good event too.” Said a relaxed Jennings at the end of the day with a good days work done. Mc Cormack must have been happy with his days’ work though racing two of the fastest drivers in the country and putting in very respectable times against them with David Moynihan ably guiding through the day.
The big winners though on the 2017 edition of the Hotel Kilmore Cavan Stages Rally would be Lettermacward man Declan Boyle guided as ever by his cousin Brian in their fantastic looking and sounding Fiesta WRC. With the car giving bother in recent months this event was seen to be the do or die event for the car and after some fettling from the wizards in M sport the car performed fabulously and filled Boyle with lots of hope looking ahead to the Donegal show piece. “The car worked really well today and the stages were a great test of man and machine.” Boyle beamed at the finish with an apparent ease and joy about his demeanour not seen for a few months now. “It was a fabulous event and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, Stephen and his team put on a great show and I can’t wait to come back next year.” Said the previous national champion as he took a celebratory glug out of his bottle of champagne after spraying down the car’s thirst at the finish ramp.
Once again the Cavan Stages Rally had wowed the crowds around county Cavan and with the battles being fierce all the way through the field it was a look into the greatest free show in the land for any fair weather fan or new comer to the sport. A big thanks to our sponsors for this year the Hotel Kilmore along with our associate sponsors Wilton Waste Recycling, Brady’s Skoda Cavan and Finish Line by Abcon. To the residents on the stage who were a joy to deal with and welcomed us onto their roads, to the volunteers who assisted us in running a safe and successful event along with the emergency services who were there to assist if any issue should arise. The competitors who travelled from far and wide to support and compete in the event, the public for respecting the safety rules in place and for enjoying the event for what it was and finally to clerk of the course Stephen Kellett and the club members who have worked tirelessly for 6 months to ensure this year’s edition of the Cavan Stages Rally was one of the best. We hope to see you all in 2018.