By Ian Harden…
As organisers and competitors finally draw breath after two days’ terrific competition at the recent Ulster Historic Rally, contenders in this year’s Mintex MSA British Historic Rally Championship have given the event’s fresh format and new stages a resounding ‘thumbs up.’
Since the last car passed over the Finish in Enniskillen, the atmosphere is still buzzing from memories of the cars from rallying’s great days lighting up the lanes with full-on, flat out commitment.
For competitors, the 90-plus miles of special stages in Co. Fermanagh proved both exhilarating and challenging as they drove over virtually unknown territory in ever-changing weather conditions.
Ford Escort Mk2 driver Adrian Seabridge had no prior experience of the Co. Fermanagh lanes but, after battling for Category Three honours and finishing sixth overall, he is a self-confessed convert to the new route. “This was a superb event. It had a good route, plenty of marshals and ran like clockwork. It is a credit to the organisers,” he says. “The stages were very different to Co. Antrim (last year). We found them a lot more technically demanding, particularly where there were tight corners just after blind crests. Also, mud on the corners kept us on our toes, trying to anticipate if the car would break away.” Along with co-driver Ryland James, Seabridge feels their visit to the ‘Ulster’ was completely worthwhile. “There were a lot of quick drivers out there, and for us to finish so high up the order was as creditable as it was tremendously enjoyable.”
Lee Ashberry echoes Seabridge’s sentiments. In only his third-ever closed roads event, Ashberry and co-driver John Pickavance lay in a thoroughly deserved second place in Category Three until their Escort Mk2 slid off the road and beached on a bank on the very last stage. “We eventually got going again, and I’m pleased to say at least we managed to drive the final miles and visit all the time controls,” he jokes. “The whole rally ran brilliantly and the organisation was bang-on. The BHRC’s asphalt closed roads rounds are new to me, but we loved the ‘Ulster’ and we’ve got the bug to compete here again.”
Category Three and overall Ulster Historic Rally winner Ryan Barrett is at the other end of the local experience scale: living in Omagh, he regularly drives the roads that were used competitively. “It was terrific to feel you were welcoming visiting crews to your home patch,” he says enthusiastically. “These stages haven’t been used since the late 1980s, when ‘greats’ like Jimmy McRae and Bertie Fisher were competing.” Despite knowing the locality, Barrett says that driving the Co. Fermanagh lanes at road and rally speed are very different. “At rally speed, you know your surroundings, but you don’t know how open or tight the corners are, so it’s essential to work with your co-driver and make good pacenotes. Then you can give your driving full commitment.”
BHRC Chairman David Lucas is as upbeat as the competitors about the new-look, old favourite event. “The ‘Ulster’ organising team put in a tremendous effort to provide competitors with, effectively, a completely fresh rally,” he says. “The whole event gave top quality, value for money rallying. It fitted in brilliantly with the BHRC’s mindset and we are already looking forward to next year.”