2023 Lee Lucas Classic Trial

John Nolan hangs on for the win.

Every year now, on the Donegal Rally weekend, the Autotest Drivers Club hold their Classic Trial in memory of Lee Lucas.  Lee Lucas was one of Northern Ireland’s motorsport gentlemen.  A driving test enthusiast, (known as Autotest these days,) he became an exponent of large saloon cars.  Lee represented Northern Ireland twice at the Ken Wharton international competition and could really make that Vauxhall Viva hop around the cones.  It is fitting then that the Classic Trial bearing his name is for road-going cars, and it has a dedicated class for classic cars.

Stars of the day were John Nolan and Audrey McDonnell who made the trip North very worthwhile with an overall win.

Fifty crews turned out at the Glenavon Hotel Cookstown for the start of the 2023 Reid Engineering sponsored event on Saturday 17th June.  After six weeks of bright sunny days, the rain clouds had returned and the forecast was for showers during the day.  Looking at the five tricky tests facing competitors, fancied front-runner Mark King predicted that it was a day for front-wheel-drive cars.

Robert Dickson and Derek Coates brought their classic Mini Cooper S  to third place overall and easily won their class.

At 10am the five groups of ten competitors each headed for their designated starting test, and so a day of intense competition began, each group completing their test four times before rotating around to the next one.

Lifting a rear wheel while cornering hard were Robert and Zara Robinson on their way to fourth place overall.

Group 1 headed for Turkington’s yard at Sandholes.  This group was an all front-wheel-drive affair with some big names on the list.  Eamonn Byrne and daughter Emma were first off the line in their Toyota Yaris, followed by Robert Dickson, Robert Robinson, Norman Ferguson, and the dark horse that was John Nolan in a Toyota Starlet.

Damien Mooney and Tony Anderson almost snatched the win, finishing just half a second behind the winners.

Group 2 would make their way to McIvor’s yard off the Killygarvan Road.  Damien Mooney and Tony Anderson in a Citroen Saxo headed another front-wheel-drive group which included Harold Hassard making a welcome reappearance in his famous Nissan Sunny. 

Harold Hassard and Ron Mullen demonstrate the Lee Lucas style of driving.

Group 3 was mostly made up of Mazda MX5s.  It was headed by Cookstown’s Trevor Ferguson with his son Adam guiding him from test to test, in a car shared with “other son”, Mark Ferguson.  They began their event at McCrea’s yard at Ballytrea, quite close to home for this pair, but not close at all for James Mansfield, or Piers MacFheorais who made the trip North for this event.  Robin and Caleb Cuddy from Cookstown shared the family Toyota MR2.

Gareth Dillon and Ben Meehan would be the top rear wheel drive, finishing in 8th place overall. 

Nine of the ten cars in Group 4 were also Mazda MX5s, with only the classic Ford Anglia of Arthur McMullan adding a bit of variety.  Many local drivers appeared here with Malcolm McQueen, Chris Nelson and Harry Barr joining Gareth Dillon and others.  They would head to Fulton’s Farm at Dufless, where a long and slippy test awaited.

Dungannon’s Chris Nelson handbrakes his immaculate MX5 round a pylon in a very slippy farmyard.

Final Group 5 was again mostly MX5s with Newmills driver Mark King getting their competition under way at Loughry College car park.  Adding a bit of variety here were Noel Cochrane and Ryan Patterson, both in MG Midgets and Ballygawley driver Leslie Hawe had Alistair Barker to guide him round in his bright blue Mazda.

Ballygawley’s Leslie Hawe tackles the test set up at Loughry College.

The first group to tackle each test faced the prospect of cleaning the path to be taken, and as expected the times got better and better as the day progressed.  By moving around the tests, it kept the overall results a mystery until everybody had completed all the tests. 

Stewartstown’s Norman Ferguson would take second place on the Classic Class with John Nicholl navigating.

The sensation of the event turned out to be John Nolan, partnered by Audrey McDonnell, in an immaculate  1989 Toyota Starlet.  After completing four of the five tests he had a 14 second lead over Robert Robinson’s Yaris, and 16 over Robert Dickson in the classic Mini Cooper, all in the same group, and just the test at Loughry to tackle. 

Cookstown man Trevor Ferguson leads Group 3 into the Fulton’s Farm test, sharing his Mazda with his son, Mark.

It almost all went wrong for them in the Loughry car park with an error on his first run drawing a 20 second penalty.  Another 5 second penalty was applied on his second attempt, and his lead was certainly in danger.  What they also didn’t know was that Damien Mooney in another group was setting tremendous times, and by the end of the event had propelled himself into second spot, just half a second behind John and Audrey.

Young Jack Rea showed skills beyond his years as he rounds a pylon on his way to a Class 4 win.

Robert Dickson and Robert Robinson were third and fourth respectively, and just 2.7 seconds covered the top four places after 20 slippy and difficult tests.  Just as Mark King had predicted, the first rear-wheel-drive car could only make eighth place overall, that being the MX5 of Gareth Dillon and Ben Meehan.  Mark King’s own chances were scuppered when a problem with his battery cost him a maximum time on the Sandholes test, although he did recover to take second place in the class.

2023 Reid Engineering Lee Lucas Classic Trial

Full results can be found here ==> 2023 Lee Lucas Trial

Overall Winners:  John Nolan Audrey McDonnell (Starlet)

Class Awards: 

Class 1 (Classic Cars) – Robert Dickson & Derek Coates (Mini Cooper S), 

Class 2 (RWD) – Gareth Dillon & Ben Meehan (Mazda MX5), 

Class 3 (FWD) – Damien Mooney & Tony Anderson (Citroen Saxo), 

Class 4 (Juniors) – Jack Rea & Nigel Conn (Toyota Yaris).