Columns Irish Rallying

Monaghan Rally 2012: The rally I didn’t go to

We all have regrets – some more serious than others – and as they say, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

In Rally Insight’s series earlier this month, memories of some of Ireland’s favourite events were shared. It was after this I remembered a rallying memory I well and truly missed out on.

Like many motorsport maniacs growing up in Ireland, I had photos of Ford Escorts littered across my bedroom walls. Two cars appeared more frequently than others – the blue and yellow Mk2 of Daniel McKenna along with the red and black Escort of Gary McPhillips.

In my mind, the two drivers from Monaghan were the finest of the modifieds and the fact that they were just a stone’s throw from my home only added to the perception.

It was all to culminate on the 2012 Monaghan Stages Rally.

Seeded fourth and fifth respectively, the battle between McKenna and McPhillips was as intense as anyone could have imagined.

Instead of standing on top of a Monaghan ditch, I was sitting at a family Sunday lunch constantly refreshing shannonsportsit.ie in anticipation of the latest stage times.

The rivals were second and fourth after the rally’s opening loop with Sam Moffett’s Mitsubishi Evo splitting the Millington-powered Escorts. McKenna and co-driver, Andrew Grennan, held a half-minute advantage but lay almost a minute behind Niall Maguire’s Subaru WRC.

Then came Stage 6.

McKenna’s 30-second advantage over McPhillips disappeared.

He lost control of his Escort under braking, spun around on the slippery tarmac and aimed the rear of his Escort for a high bank.

McPhillips almost suffered the same consequence of pushing his rear-wheel-drive machine to the limit. With the stricken Scanbitz Escort in sight, McPhillips got around the hairpin just in time as McKenna restarted and followed his challenger through to the end of the stage.

The race was quite literally on.

McPhillips held a four-second lead with three stages remaining. Meanwhile, McKenna’s service crew earned their stripes by getting his Escort patched up following his 60 mph accident.

The drama continued on an extremely wet first stage of the final loop. McKenna hauled the four seconds back and with a gearbox issue becoming terminal for Niall Maguire’s Subaru, the two Escort pilots were now tied for the lead of their home rally.

McPhillips regained the lead on the penultimate stage but his one-second advantage proved insignificant as suspension failure cost him six minutes on the last stage and extinguished hopes of a home-rally win.

But for McKenna, it was a sweet success on his local stages.

The modified heroes caught my imagination, Irish rallying was the greatest.

The onboards from both crews kept me going through the May-June exam period and McKenna’s career progression was followed with special interest.

I watched videos in awe of the pair nose-to-tail going through a chicane in Ballinode on Stage 6.

The reaction of the spectators as they realised what was happening before their eyes.

“Ohh, he’s been in the scenery,” was the cry as McKenna’s squashed Escort flew past.

It all threw petrol on the motorsport flame that was burning within me.

A Ford Escort Mk2 winning the Monaghan Stages Rally, what a memory.

McPhillips matching his compatriot all the way in a Millington monster running on 13-inch wheels.

Special times.

That event in April 2012 will always run through my head, but it was my loss to never witness it with my own eyes.

Photos by Paul McIlroy

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