1980 Bushwhacker Preview

Can Robin Lyons steal Championship points away from his Tyrone rivals in his Lotus Sunbeam?

This report is reproduced from Belfast Telegraph 26 September 1980


Tomorrow’s Bushwhacker Rally produces a local derby – by Sammy Hamill.

ROBIN LYONS, the 1978 champion, makes his first appearance in the Goodyear/Belfast Telegraph special stage championship this season in tomorrow’s Castle Inn Bushwhacker Rally which starts from Omagh Showgrounds (12 noon).  And it is being suggested that his return to the Ulster forests will be a half-hearted affair, a day out to support a rally run by his home club, while he preserves his Lotus Sunbeam for next week’s Cork ‘20’ International.

“Don’t believe a word of it” insists another former title-holder Ronnie McCartney, currently leading the championship series after two rounds.  “Robin would rather ‘beat me on the Bushwhacker than finish in the top three in Cork.”

It is all part of the intense rivalry between the Tyrone-bred group of drivers which has developed over the years and honed their competitive edge, helping to establish them among the top names in Ulster rallying.

Robin Lyons – back on his “home” rally.

In the past, these two have battled so hard for a “home” win that only a single second separated them at the finish and Larne-exiled McCartney, originally from Omagh, has no intention of being lulled into a false sense of security by Castlederg garage owner Lyons.

He quickly transfers the boot to the other foot and points to the Vauxhall Chevette he will drive for the first time. “I haven’t driven it above 50 mph yet and there are bound to be a few teething problems with a car which has just come off the boat. It will take a while to sort it out properly and get used to it.”

He doesn’t say, of course, that the Chevette has just emerged from the workshops of Dealer Team Vauxhall in England and is certain to pack a much bigger punch than the Talbot Sunbeam which carried him to first place on the previous round of the championship back in July. But that won’t fool Lyons either.

Nor will it fool the third figure in the Tyrone triumvira,  Hugh O’Brien,  who has his heart set on winning the title this season after finishing runner-up to Ernest Kidney last year.

In the past few seasons, Dromore vet Hugh has accelerated into one of the fastest men in the forests and began this year’s championship with a convincing win on the Glucoplus Rally in Fermanagh.  But when he set out to strengthen his lead in the series on the Mourne Forests he tried a bit too hard, too soon and bent the axle of his RS1800 Escort on a tree.

His sudden exit took the pressure off McCartney who went on to win in fairly hesitant fashion in the rainy slippery conditions from Robert Moffatt, who now disrupts the all-Tyrone tussle by moving into second place in the championship.

Moffett, a 24-year-old engineering company director from the Co. Monaghan village of Clontilbert, has been the surprise packet of the season.  Previously regarded as “wild” and a threat only on Monaghan events, Robert has shown maturity, consistency and pace despite his lack of knowledge of the Ulster forests.

The acquisition of a well-prepared Escort RS1800 has been largely responsible – “the first decent car I have driven” – and he no longer feels it necessary to attack each stage with such abandon. But his lack of experience of forests like Carrickaholten, Sawmills and Gortin Glen, home ground to McCartney, O’Brien and Lyons, could prove costly tomorrow.

No, it won’t be Moffett the top trio are looking over their shoulders for, but Bertie Fisher. From Ballinamallard just across the Tyrone/Fermanagh border.  Bertie won last week’s two-day Wexford Rally on tarmac roads and now takes to the forests for the first time this season in his superb Bush Performance Escort RS1800.

Despite the absence – it has been a year – Bertie admits he prefers forest driving and is looking forward to renewing rivalry with McCartney and Co.  In 1979, on the Permapost Rally, he was leading all of them when a spin near the end dropped him to 10th place.  A Fermanagh man winning in Tyrone? Well, Kidney did it last year and Fisher took second place. It could happen again.

Ronnie McCartney, seen here on his way to winning the 1976 Bushwhacker, has switched to a Vauxhall Chevette to try and extend his record of four wins out of the five Bushwhackers held so far.

The Bushwhacker entry is the best of the season so far, with all the championship regulars, except Robert Copeland who is still recovering from an arm injury, together for the first time.  Winston Henry, however, may be a doubtful starter after damaging his Escort last weekend.

Fred Patterson, after two outings in an Opel Kadett, is planning to run his lightweight Shawson Supply Escort in which he won the Forward Trust rallycross championship last weekend.

Top Group One-seeded driver is Jimmy Logan who won the category on the opening round – he was third overall – but then crashed out of the Mourne Forests event.  He now shares second place in the championship with Stanley Orr but the lead is held by Kevin O’Kane who was going so superbly well in his 1600cc Avenger.

The rally starts from the Omagh showgrounds at 12 noon and will cover seven stages before finishing at the Castle Inn, Castlederg, around 3.45pm.

Rally route

Special stages and first car due times: 

SS1 – Glengowna 12.12; 

SS2 – Gortin Glen 12.31; 

SS3 – Sawmills 13.07; 

SS4 – Lough Braden North 13.42;

Service break; 

SS5 – Carrickaholten 14.17; 

SS6 – Lough Braden South 14.59;

SS7 – Lough Braden North 15.06. 

Rally finishes Castle Inn, Castlederg, 15.45.

Top of the Bushwhacker Entry List

  1. Ronnie McCartney and Ronnie Foreman (Vauxhall Chevette HS)
  2. Hugh 0’Brien and Pat McCullagh (Ford Escort RS1800)
  3. Robert-Moffett and Gerard Kelly (Ford Escort RS1800)
  4. Bertie Fisher and David Johnston (Ford Escort BS1800)
  5. Robin Lyons and Willie Dolan (Lotus Sunbeam)
  6. Winston Henry and John Hunter (Ford Escort RS1800)
  7. Fred Patterson and Roy Kernaghan (Ford Escort RS1800)
  8. Bertie Law and Lenny Weir (Vauxhall Chevette)
  9. Jimmy Logan and Peter Ervine (Ford Escort RS2000)
  10. David Francis and Willie Carse (Ford Escort RS2000)
  11. Stanley Orr and Jimmy Davison (Ford Escort RS2000)
  12. Kevin 0’Kane and Godfrey Crawford (Talbot Avenger)
  13. Ken Irwin and Ian Giboney (Talbot Sunbeam)
  14. Robin Allingham and Tom McIlwaine (Triumph TR7 V8)
  15. George Robinson and A. N. Other (Talbot Sunbeam)
  16. Des Lavery and Peter Morrow (Ford Escort 1600)
  17. Pat Kirk and John Crossle (Talbot Sunbeam)
  18. Peter McCullough and Hugh McKenna (Ford Escort 1600)
  19. Paul Murray and Alan Graham (Ford Escort RS2000)