Janis Vorobjovs mastered Fivemiletown Rally’s slippery conditions to take a five-second victory over Cathan McCourt on his first-ever rally in Ireland. The Latvian driver was only 0.2 seconds ahead of McCourt before the final stage but he guaranteed his victory with a stage win in his four-wheel-drive BMW M3.
Despite their eventual two-horse race for victory, it was Vorobjovs and McCourt who were both chasing early rally leader Patrick O’Brien after the first two stages. O’Brien had a 2.3-second lead in his Samsonas-built Ford Fiesta N5 before getting stuck in a ditch on the first pass of Jenkin. At the end of the stage, O’Brien commented that his time loss could have been avoided if spectators had helped him out of the ditch. O’Brien was left to rue the moment which cost him 50 seconds as he posted three fastest stage times on his way to sixth overall.
Vorobjovs’ lead was then put under threat on Stage 6 when he had to slow to pass the stricken Subaru Impreza WRC of Freddie Milne, however, the Latvian crew still had a 0.5-second advantage after the incident. Earlier, McCourt had suffered from a slipping clutch but his service crew managed to change the Ford Fiesta’s gearbox which resolved the problem.
Callum Devine fought back from seventh after the opening stage to finish the rally on the Fivemiletown podium in his Hyundai i20 R5. Devine admitted early on that he was still driving his R5 as if he was on tarmac, upsetting the car’s overall balance, but once he got over his gravel-driving rustiness the ERC hopeful was the man to beat as he went fastest on three of the last four stages.
Devine’s turn of pace pushed last year’s Fivemiletown winner, Niall McCullagh, down to fourth. McCullagh, in his third R5 start, struggled on the rally’s opening pair of stages as the challenge of opening the road was made even trickier by heavy overnight rain making stage conditions extremely slippery.
Gareth Mimnagh put in a great performance to finish top of the Mitsubishi runners in his Group A Evo 6. Mimnagh finished eighth overall, 24.5 seconds ahead of Alan Smyth’s Evo 10.
The battle for two-wheel-drive honours was just as enthralling as that of the overall frontrunners. David Condell persevered in his Ford Escort to beat Ryan Barrett to the two-wheel-drive bragging rights.
Adrian Hetherington looked untouchable on the opening loop of stages as he led Barrett, Condell and Martynas Samsonas by over 10 seconds. The hard work was undone for both Hetherington and Samsonas on the second loop of stages. Hetherington crashed his Escort on Stage 5 while Samsonas was brought to a halt when the rear-right wheel came off his BMW E36.
The drama left Barrett leading Condell by 20 seconds as they left the final service only for his two-wheel-drive bid to be snatched from him on the penultimate stage. Barrett suffered a puncture halfway through the final pass of Jenkin costing him a minute and in turn handing Condell a free run to the two-wheel-drive victory.
Photos: Mark McCullagh and Kevin Glendinning