Photo by roydempster.com.
Jon Armstrong revived his dream of sharing the stages with the world’s very best drivers on November’s Wales Rally GB by scoring an all-important victory on the fifth round of the Carryduff Forklift Road To Wales competition. Navigated by Noel O’Sullivan Jnr, the 20-year-old led from the second stage until the last to take the win by 32.8 seconds. He capped off an unforgettable forty eight hours by winning the top two-wheel-drive award, with Ulster Rally organisers also presenting him with the Young Achiever trophy.
“It’s great to win, especially with the event being so close to home,” said Armstrong. “I had a lot of support over the two-days from people in the service area and out on the stages – they all wanted me to do well, so I have to thank them. I knew how important it was to win at the Ulster Rally given our two DNFs (at the Circuit and Tyrone Stages) and this result puts us back in the hunt. All in all I’m really happy with how the weekend has gone for us.”
Running over two days, the Ulster Rally consisted of twelve special stages, with these dotted across counties Fermanagh and Tyrone. In all, crews registered for the Road To Wales would cover a competitive distance just over 100 miles on the Northern Ireland Motor Club event.
The action commenced on Friday afternoon following a ceremonial start within the grounds of Castle Coole with the 13.46-mile Mallabeny test, and it was Killarney native Rob Duggan who raced into an early lead. On the next stage it was all change as Kesh’s Jon Armstrong inherited top spot, with Callum Devine giving chase in his Opel Adam as crews headed back to first service at St Angelo Airport. Conditions were dry for the repeated stages, with the last one – the eight mile run over Knockmany – being held in complete darkness. That failed to slow Armstrong down as he extended his lead – albeit slightly – over Duggan. While they reported no problems the same couldn’t be said for Devine as brake issues with his car cost him around half-a-minute. Despite this, he still held third position after the opening leg.
Omagh’s Alan Smyth, with Macartan Kierans on the notes, set a steady pace over the course of day one to sit fourth in the Road To Wales standings. He, too, was affected by recalcitrant brakes, but a set of new discs cured the problem. Castlederg’s Adam Bustard held a fantastic fifth, with Isle of Mull resident Fergus Barlow in sixth. Dunmurry’s Kyle White was lucky to still be in the rally after going off the road close to the flying finish on special stage four. He lost more than three minutes as a result, but with some persistence he managed to get going again minus a front and back bumper on his ‘Max’-specification Citroen C2R2.
The Saturday leg of the Ulster National Rally continued in the same vein as the first with Jon Armstrong going fastest on Sloughan Glen – a stage that grew to prominence back in 2007 when the World Championship visited Ireland. Armstrong’s charge continued into Carran Bridge and at the end his advantage over Rob Duggan had mushroomed from 19.8 seconds to 42 seconds. An incorrect tyre choice by Duggan proved to be the turning point in this tit-for-tat battle and he later admitted it would be nigh on impossible to make the time up. Callum Devine remained third but dropped time when he was forced to reverse down an escape road after an overshoot. He was one of a number of drivers caught out in the wet. Alan Smyth was fourth ahead of Fergus Barlow (Ford Fiesta R2) in fifth.
After special stages seven and eight – Topped Mountain and Widow Magee – the picture at the top of the leaderboard was unchanged as crews arrived back in Enniskillen. The rally’s final two loops – a repeat of the morning’s four stages – saw the action play out in similar fashion, with Armstrong staying at the head of the field in his Peugeot 208 R2. His pace did drop late on, which allowed Duggan to inch closer over the closing miles, but he had enough in hand to claim his third victory in the competition. Third went to Devine and fourth to Alan Smyth who recorded some respectable times at the wheel of his Citroen C2. Kyle White bagged fifth with sixth going to Hillsborough’s Fraser Mulholland (Ford Fiesta R2). Ian Dickson (Ford Fiesta ST) retired on the first stage when an engine mount broke and was joined on the sidelines by Fergus Barlow when he crashed on stage eight – Widow Magee. Adam Bustard, after enjoying a strong performance, bowed out on the penultimate test
The Todds Leap Ulster Rally was the final sealed surface event of the Carryduff Forklift Road To Wales series meaning the action will now switch to gravel for the penultimate round on Saturday, September 5 – the Tuffmac Trailers Lakeland Stages Rally. Until then you can keep up-to-date with all the very latest Road To Wales news by following @CFR2Wales on Twitter or by visiting the Road To Wales website (road-to-wales.carryduff.co.uk).