WHILE the start of a new motorsport season will see a host of brand new machines being tentatively wheeled to start lines, that’s not the case for Omagh’s Gary Milligan, who is preparing for a 33rd campaign in a row behind the wheel of his trusty Mini.
The Omagh Motor Club stalwart is a regular competitor in both the Northern Ireland Sprint and Northern Ireland Hillclimb Championships and yesterday (Saturday) he began yet another season of the former in his reliable vehicle.
While some, including reigning Sprint champion, Omagh’s Adrian Pollock, are struggling to be ready for the start of the campaign due to engine rebuild issues and a host of other problems associated with the higher performance machines, Milligan has no such concerns, joking that all he has to do is check the tyres and give his Mini a wash!
“This is my 33rd year in the Mini, the same car – it’s a bit like Trigger’s broom but it’s the same from the front windscreen to the back windscreen!
“The car gets a wee bit quicker every year and the driver gets a wee bit slower so it stays about the same!”
While there’s no doubting that his car somewhat resembles the Only Fools and Horses character’s broom, which famously only had 17 new heads and 14 new handles over 20 years, another thing that can’t be quibbled about is Gary’s desire to hold the ‘Fastest Mini in the West’ title come season’s end.
The unofficial class in the NI Sprint Championship sees Gary, Irvinestown’s Gerry McGarrity and the Johnston’s, father and son, Karl and Mervyn, from Tullyhommon, go head-to-head, despite being in different classes.
“The most important thing is the ‘Fastest Mini in the West’ title – the class is only secondary!,” he stressed.
“Gerry has supposedly bought a lightweight Mini in England. I haven’t seen it yet and I know he’s not planning to be out at the first round, so he might debut it at Kirkistown. He must have taken all the beatings he got last year to heart!”
While Gary is ready to get the new season underway, so too is Beragh’s Catherine Donnelly in her Delta T91 and Aaron Vance in his RenaultSport Clio 197.
Unfortunately, as previously stated, it looks as though Pollock will have missed the opening round and so will fellow local racers, John Donnelly, Lewis Wilson and Thomas Corey, who are all unable to make the start line for a variety of reasons.
Although disappointed at missing the opening round, Pollock is taking a philosophical approach to the season: “I haven’t many hopes for next week because I’ve no engine, so unless I get a surprise phone call to tell me it’s ready, then that’s that,” he said.
“The only good thing is that seven rounds out of nine count, but it still makes it hard and I’m not even that hopeful for the second round in the middle of March.”
Events will be held across three venues, starting with the opening round at Nutts Corner. The championship will make three visits to the County Antrim venue, five trips to County Down’s Kirkistown Race Circuit plus one visit to County Fermanagh’s St Angelo Airport near Enniskillen.