On a day of diabolical weather, with unbelievably heavy rain, low cloud, and only the occasional blink of sunshine, eighty crews tacked 20 Targa Tests on the East side of the Province. The Larne Motor Club had set themselves a big challenge involving changing tests around during the day, and despite this and the weather, the Autodock Lahaina Lanes Rally still ran more or less to time.
It doesn’t seem to matter what the weather is like for Robert Woodside Jr. He and navigator Ben McKee brought their Toyota MR2 home 24 seconds clear of David Crothers and Barbara Kane in their MX5, with Chris Evans and Kevin Fagan’s similar car relegated to third after the tie-decider rules were applied.
Things got under way early with documentation, vehicle inspections and hearty breakfasts at the Halfway House Hotel near Ballygally on the Coast Road. As the first cars left the start at 10am, drops of rain were an ominous sign, and the weather went downhill from there.
David Crothers and Barbara Kane were quickest off the mark on the first test. An all-concrete lane with a hard-to-see pylon in the yard meant many crews had to reverse to make the manoeuvre round it. A second pylon with just enough room to circle round it saw some drivers selecting reverse gear for a second time.
Dungannon’s Geoffrey Lamont, navigating for his Nephew Ashley, was wide awake early and an error free run gained him second place on the opening test. This great start to the day would set them up for a string of top ten times, and a couple of fastest times on their way to ninth place overall at the finish.
David Crothers would hold the lead until test 9 where a hard charging Robert Woodside would nip in front, and there he would stay to the finish. Also going well was Dungannon crew Mark Stewart and Chris Hobson. By test 9 they were up to seventh place overall and relishing the slippy conditions. Test 10 would see them hit a very solid concrete post and end their day’s fun.
The slippy gravel tests were also suiting Dungannon’s Dougie and Glenn Millar in their VW Golf. The Semi-Expert crew would stay well placed in their class throughout the day and finish a fine 4th place in Class 3. David Burns and Connor Murphy would finish just behind them in the class in their Ford Fiesta.
As usual, the largest class is for beginners in rear-wheel-drive. 23 crews, all but 6 in MX5s, jockeyed for position during the day. Dungannon’s Eric McIvor, navigated by daughter Suzanne, had a difficult start with a test fail on test 2, and a gaggle of pylon faults in the opening half. A steady run from there to the finish saw them collect third place, and were it not for those pylon faults, would easily have won the class.
A popular test on this event each year features a run around a set of sheep pens up in the hills above Larne. A mixture of grippy concrete lane, grassy track, bumpy gravel and smooth concrete around the pens, makes this a real challenge. After the first run, the grassy section was just too cut up in the conditions and had to be bypassed for subsequent tests.
First time over the test, Dungannon’s Mark Stewart was fastest with Eamonn Byrne second. Second time it was that man Robert Woodside, two seconds clear of the chasing bunch. This test would see Eamonn Byrne’s chances evaporate after slipping off the road and down a steep bank, costing him a maximum time on the test, and plunging from second overall to twentieth. He would recover to finish in eleventh place overall, and still top front wheel drive car.
Third time around the pens, and Allan Harryman would steer his Toyota MR2 to take fastest time on this final test as the low cloud closed in making visibility very difficult.
The real heroes of the day however were the timekeepers and Marshals who stood out in the worst weather nature could throw at them, and they deserved the praise heaped on them by Robert Woodside Jr in his winner’s speech. The move to July from October was supposed to give better weather for this most popular of events, but then this is Northern Ireland, and July is no guarantee of sunshine!
Overall: 1. R Woodside/B McKee, 2. D Crothers/B Kane, 3. C Evans/K Fagan.
Expert FWD 1. E Byrne/D Smyth, 2. F Lenehan/T Faulkner.
Expert RWD 1. R Woodside/B McKee, 2. D Crothers/B Kane, 3. C Evans/K Fagan.
Semi FWD 1. D Doran/J Doran, 2. J Nolan/C Clark, 3. J Mansfield/K Grehan.
Semi RWD 1. M Woodside/A Blair, 2. D Reid/A Gilmore, 3. K Adair/F Adair.
Novice FWD 1. K Daly/M Maxwell, 2. M O’Hara/A O’Hara, 3. A Scott/J Patterson
Novice RWD 1. D Quinn/K Quinn, 2. A Johnston/R Thomas, 3. E McIvor/S McIvor
Full results here ===> RESULTS