RALLY fans were treated to a great day of rallying action in the forests of West Tyrone at the weekend with local driver Mark Donnelly and co-driver Stephen O’Hanlon in a Ford Fiesta S2000 emerging victorious on the Omagh Motor Club Bushwhacker Rally, sponsored by McKelvey Asbestos Removal Ltd.
This is the first time the Omagh man has won this rally which was hotly contested throughout the day in a three-way battle swapping fastest stage times between the other crews of Adrian Hetherington /Gary Nolan and Niall McCullagh/ Ryan McCloskey.
An entry list of 102 crews emphasised this hugely popular event amongst competitors and was the largest entry received by any event in this year’s McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Rally Championship.
As the four-time Bushwhacker winner and current Northern champion Derek McGarrity from Glengormley led away the field from the start line at the Silverbirch Hotel, it was Donnelly and Hetherington who set the early pace over the slippery Lough Bradan South stage by clocking an equal joint time of 1 minute and 38 seconds, which was a second faster than Niall McCullagh in a Subaru S14, with previous winner Martin Cairns in a Fiesta WRC a further second back.
As the pre race favourites struggled with the conditions, it was Donaghmore driver Adrian Hetherington who now upgraded to the Toyota Corolla WRC, set the pace by topping the timesheets at Lough Bradan North and Carrickaholten to take the outright lead in the rally with McCullagh a further three seconds adrift.
However, Omagh driver Niall McCullagh dropped back when his Subaru stalled at the start of the Slievedoo stage which took over twenty seconds to restart demoting him to fifth place.
At the first service halt at Castlederg, Hetherington maintained a slender lead of seven seconds from Donnelly with Cairns third, closely followed by Castlederg crew and event sponsor Darren McKelvey, a further second adrift.
The second loop of the rally saw the leading crews improve their times on all five stages but there was a final twist to the leaderboard on the penultimate stage at Slievedoo when rally leader Hetherington clipped a rock at a high speed corner and drove the remainder of the stage on a flat tyre losing over twenty seconds to promote Donnelly to the top of the leaderboard. These positions remained unaltered to the finish.
TWO PAGE SPREAD IN TOMORROW’S ULSTER HERALD
TRILLICK head into the July holiday period with a spring in their step after recording a morale-boosting derby victory...
TYRONE captain Matthew Donnelly stresses that it’s redemption time for his side on Saturday night when they come up...