As the sun beamed out across the Co. Fermanagh hills, it was apt that it would the scorching hot pace of 2022 Champions Patrick O’Brien & Stephen O’Brien that would see them claim a dominant victory on the Enniskillen based Lakeland Stages Rally.
Over six stages and an incredibly exciting days action, it was the O’Briens who really impressed as they topped the time sheets on all bar one stage and returned to the finish with a 21.2 second advantage over 2019 Champions Cathan McCourt & Liam Moynihan.
In the race for the 2023 Sligo Pallets Forest Rally Championship, round 5 in Enniskillen provided an insane amount of story lines that will help shape the final tale of the season, but for Ryan Caldwell & Arthur Kierans it was a result they could barely have foreseen as they claimed yet another maximum score as all round them their rivals faltered.
Caldwell headed to the Lakeland Stages with a single point advantage over closest rivals Mark Donnelly & Sean Ferris, and by the end of the opening test it was the VW Polo of Donnelly that led the Skoda Fabia of Caldwell by 0.9 seconds. Cruelly for Donnelly, an impact with a bridge in Ballintempo ended his day, and with him likely to tackle the upcoming Bushwhacker Rally in a non-championship Class and cede more points, it was a cruel blow to his title chances.
With his main rival now sidelined, Caldwell & Kierans continued to push and would eventually arrive to the finish somewhat disappointed to be 4th on the event, but with a sizeable power disadvantage to those ahead and a massive advantage gained in the Championship, it was a remarkably good day for the Motorsport Ireland backed youngster.
Second place amongst the Sligo Pallets Forest Championship registered crews would go to Hugh McQuaid & Declan Casey, a remarkable drive by the local star and event sponsor would see their Ford Escort Mk2 finish top 2WD on the day to make the high-speed blast over the six Lakeland stages all the sweeter.
Mickey Conlon & Paul McPhillips would finish third in their Ford Escort amongst the registered crews, ahead of Mike O’Donoghue & Danny Murphy in the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo and the Class 4 winning Sam Stewart & Stephen Peoples.
Amongst the impressive results achieved on the day, Jack McKenna & Mac Kierans continued their really impressive debut year on Gravel as they finished 24th overall and take another step towards a sweep of Class 16 titles on both surfaces as well as the MIJRS J1600 crown already secured.
While many elected to use the Enniskillen event as a drop score in their Championship campaign, sadly a large number of registered crews who did compete ended their day on the retirements sheet and will certainly rue a lost haul of points in both the individual Class battles, as well as in the race for Overall and 2WD honours come the end of season Prize Giving in the Sligo Park Hotel on November 25th.
The Championship race now comes down to just two more events, with the action staying up North next time out with the ‘Gravel Grand Prix’ that is the Bushwhacker Rally in Omagh on September 15th and 16th, including some really exciting night stages, and then we conclude with the Carrick-on-Suir Willie Loughman Forest Rally on October 8th, with entries for both events currently open.
Words: CIAN DONNELLAN/IFRC Press Officer | Photos: RUAIDHRI NASH [Images must not be used in any way without prior written consent of the photographer]