Paul Blair Graduates to Autotest Champion at Loughry College.
It is over 40 years since a driver in a rear-wheel-drive vehicle won the Northern Ireland Autotest Championship. In 1974, “The King” Robert Woodside took his VW Beach Buggy to the title, and ever since, only Minis or Mini-based Specials have taken the crown. That changed on Saturday when Ballyclare’s Paul Blair steered his Stryker sports car to a calculated second place overall, thereby clinching the 2015 Aughrim Filling Station sponsored series.
Autotesting at Championship level is fascinating to watch. Nowadays, a driver from any of the four classes could win an event outright, such has been the development of the cars, and the advancement in driving skills. The ordinary motor club member can only look on in amazement as these top flight drivers tackle the tests.
The event on Saturday was the last round in the 2015 Championship and victory in the series would be decided between Paul Blair and Robin Lyons. Paul was the mathematical leader going into the event, and he was going to need a bad day for Robin Lyons to pip him to the series trophy. A fourth place overall would be enough to secure the title for Paul, so his second place finish was more than enough.
Three tests were to be completed four times within the spacious grounds of Loughry College, and the rain stayed away which made it more pleasant for everyone. It was to be a day of breakages for some of the competitors however. Ashley Lamont suffered a rear suspension breakage, and had to head off to get some welding done nearby before being able to continue. The Grimes brothers had a drive shaft breakage, and Steven Ferguson had problems with a front wheel that wouldn’t tighten up on the wheel nuts.
With a penalty-free performance on the day, young Robin Lyons topped the results sheet with Paul Blair second. Steven Ferguson overcame his wheel problems, but nudged a couple of pylons during the day to finish third place overall. Peter Grimes was fourth in his Mini Special, and despite his suspension problems, Ashley Lamont made it back to fifth place overall.
Coagh driver, Paul Mooney, easily won the large saloon class in his Vauxhall Nova, and took sixth place overall, thus securing his place on the Ken Wharton Team to represent Northern Ireland.
Overall Winner: Robin Lyons
Class Winners: Steven Ferguson, Paul Blair, Robin Lyons, Paul Mooney.