Cole shows clean pair of heels to clinch title
DEFENDING champion Damien Cole returned to Wexford on a mission to retain his Riverbank House Hotel Dick Bailey Stages rally title and he did so in real style.
Cole and navigator James Morgan led the field away on Saturday morning from the picturesque view of Wexford quay front for the 40th anniversary of the Riverbank House Hotel Dick Bailey Stages rally.
Cole started the event as the current champion and pre-event favourite although he faced stiff opposition in his challenge to do the double. Starting at two were local aces James Stafford and Amy Ryan aboard their 2.5 Millingtonengined Darrian T90 GTR.
Although conditions were damp at the start, should the roads dry out the Darrian would pose a real threat to Cole's WRC Focus. Rounding out the top three were Daniel Barry and Gordon Noble who debuted their Mitsubishi Evo X.
Others expected to be near the front-running pace included Adrian Hetherington, Mickey Conlon, Sebastian Ling and Roy White who had the very rapid MG S2000 at his disposal.
The opening loop was in damp slippery conditions and brought plenty of drama as expected. Cole led as expected and it was Sebastian Ling who was taking the fight to the Focus crew, the yellow Evo 17 seconds back. Third was the Darrian of Stafford and Ryan although they were having severe traction problems in the damp and greasy conditions.
Early retirements included John Hendy and Enda Kennedy who crashed out at high speed on stage two, thankfully with no injuries, while James F. Stafford and Richie Codd were another crew to leave the scene in spectacular fashion on the second stage of the day.
The drama continued to unfold on the second loop of stages. By second service it was Ling and co-driver Aled Rees who led the event with a struggling Cole lying in second. The Focus had broken a drive-shaft and the crew were forced to struggle through stage four and relinquish the rally lead.
On the closing loop of stages, Cole once again powered through to take the lead, with his Focus now resumed to full working order. He ended the day 16 seconds clear of Ling who had had a very satisfying day to lie second overnight. He was 16 seconds clear of Danny Barry and Gordon Noble who had taken the shine off their new Evo X on stage five when they clipped the rear of the car off the bank and in turn removing its rear bumper.
Day two brought more slippy conditions with overnight rain making the early morning stages very tricky.
Cole used the advantage of the WRC technology to stretch his lead to 40 seconds from Sebastian Ling and Aled Rees although all was not well in the Welsh Evo as an off over the finish line of stage eight meant there was a lot to do in the first main service of the day.
Adrian Hetherington and Gary Nolan were now up to third after Danny Barry and Gordon Noble hit a bank and burst a turbo pipe on the opening stage, dropping them two-and-a-half minutes. With this in mind, the green Escort crew slackened their pace off considerably, content to hold station and with it leaving themselves in line for the coveted John Joe Galvin memorial award.
In the run-in to the finish it was status quo at the head of the field. Damian Cole and James Morgan showed a clean pair of heels to take victory on this year's event.
Their winning margin was over a minute-and-a-half from the Evo of Seb Ling and Aled Rees who survived their problems earlier in the day to take a fine second. Third overall, top 2wd and the winners of the much sought-after John Joe Galvin perpetual award was sweet reward for Adrian Hetherington and Gary Nolan.
Many people had expected the northern ace and his local navigator not to make the finish so it was with much satisfaction for the crew to bring the Kawasaki Green Escort back to the Riverbank in third overall after a wheel-perfect drive all weekend. It was particularly sweet for Nolan who fulfilled another long-time ambition by lifting the Joe Stafford Memorial Cup for being the top Wexford navigator.
Daniel Barry and Gordon Noble put on a charge through the afternoon stages and fight their way back up to take a well-deserved fourth overall. Mickey Conlon would have taken fourth but for a minute's penalty which saw them drop back to fifth. It was still a fine drive by the blind man from Monaghan and with it class 13 honours.
Paddy O'Dwyer emulated their 2010 result by taking sixth overall and the Lorcan Caufield Memorial Cup, despite some frustrating brake and gearbox problems on their home Sunday stages. James Coleman and Kaye Shanahan took a fine seventh with Shay Power and Johnny Rafter taking eighth overall and were also the very popular winners of the South-East stages championship.
Shay and Johnny and two hugely thought of and respected competitors and it was great to see them lift the championship after a fine drive in Wexford. Scott McElhinney and Karl Reid finished ninth and top Citroen C2 although they had to keep an eye out for the fast-improving Peter Barrable and Paddy Robinson who took their best result of the year with tenth overall and second in the Citroen C2 championship.
And the biggest cheer of the weekend was saved for the winner of the Juniors, Leon Galvin and Ger Foley took the top honours by 20 seconds from the Honda Civic of Padraig and Eoghan McCarthy.
In only his third event, Leon showed a clean pair of heels and will surely be a force in the Junior event and indeed class 11 in 2012 and beyond.