IF you go down to the woods on Saturday, you’re in for a big surprise, especially when you see the entry list Omagh Motor Club has attracted for the second Samsonas Fivemiletown Rally.
The crème de la crème of the local rally fraternity will compete in what will be the first round of the ANICC Forest Rally Challenge against several crews from further afield, like the Scottish Championship crew of John Wink and Neil Shanks, Brisbane-based Omagh man Brendan Quinn, Latvian star Janis Vorobjovs and lead sponsor, Martynas Samsonas, from Lithuania.
The battle at the front is anticipated to be tight with reigning champion, Killyclogher’s Niall McCullagh seeded first, just ahead of Dromore brothers, Irish Forestry champion Cathan and Conor McCourt.
And to add even more excitement, there have been two late entries. European Rally Championship junior star Callum Devine, who is a member of Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing’s Junior Driver programme, will drive a Hyundia i20 R5, while Scottish star Fred Milne will compete in his Subaru Impreza WRC machine.
The high standard of the entry list continues throughout the entire field of around 90 runners with Michael Carbin, Mountfield’s Patrick O’Brien, Strabane’s Martin Cairns, Castlederg’s Gareth Sayers and Kenny McKinstry amongst just some of those expected to be challenging.
In the mouth-watering two-wheel-drive battle, it’s almost impossible to pick a potential winner with Donaghmore’s Adrian Hetherington, Fivemiletown’s Shane McGirr, recent Roger Albert Clark (RAC) Rally winner Marty McCormack, and brothers Ryan and 2018 British Historic Rally Champion Paul Barrett expected to be at the sharp end of the battle.
The high-standard of the entry is largely down to the efforts of recently crowned Motorsport UK Volunteer of the Year, Niall McGonigle, who beamed: “When you see the entry, it makes it all worthwhile!
“I couldn’t be happier, it’s unbelievable the support we’ve had. It makes the hard work worth it.”
The Clady man has been the driving force behind the resurrection of the event since its return in 2019 and his proactivity and creativity in promoting the rally to competitors has been widely applauded.
Castlederg competitor Andrew Bustard said: “There’s an unbelievable entry for it, but you have to take your hat off to boys like Niall [McGonigle], who have campaigned for it, who has gone into the stages and prepped for the rally. I suppose Omagh Motor Club needed a breath of fresh air to push it forward, but look at what he is doing with the advertising, organising everyone to get entries in to get it done – and you have some top two-wheel-drive men too! It’ll be class!”
Another of the two-wheel-drive specialists, Fivemiletown’s McGirr added: “The two-wheel-drive entry is the strongest I’ve ever seen. Fair play to the club, they have done some work to get that!”
And third seed, Conor McCourt echoed that duo’s sentiments by adding: “Niall has put in a tremendous amount of effort. He took that rally out of the ashes and there is an unbelievable entry. Everything he is doing is great – wee deals and wee things that every motor club should be doing. But for a clubman rally to get that entry is a great achievement.”
The event will be based at Fivemiletown College, with scrutineering on Friday night. The first car will leave the school at 9.30am to be at the first stage for 9.49am on Saturday, with service back at the College at 11.15am and 1.59pm, with finish at 4.07pm.
Visit the Samsonas Fivemiletown Rally Facebook page to see the full schedule.