James Stafford and Jeff Case were in a league of their own on Sunday to claim victory in Cork 20’s National Rally. To finish 34.9 seconds ahead of a pair of Ford Escorts piloted by Gary Kiernan and Damian Toner is a big achievement, let alone when it’s done in mechanical adversity.
A stunning trio of times on Cork’s second loop of stages gave the Wexford man control of the national section. He led rival Toner by 46.6 seconds with three stages to go.
Then fourth gear went bang and Stafford realised he’d have to nurse his Darrian T90 home and hope he stayed in front.
“Off the start-line of stage seven we lost fourth gear,” explained Stafford. “I was a bit worried then because I didn’t know if the box was going to stick it. I tried to be as gentle as I could.
“Then we lost second and third gear going over the finish-line of stage eight.
“The last stage was very worrying because I couldn’t use the gearbox to slow down. We had all the gears going up but we only had first, fifth, and sixth going down.
“We had to freewheel at the junctions and sharper bends and go for first gear coming out.
“That was a long stage because we didn’t know how much time we were dropping. We knew it would be a lot but didn’t know how much. I thought I was never going to get to the end of it.
“We still had to push as hard as we could in the situation that we were in.”
Thankfully for Stafford his Darrian’s gearbox held together and he judged his speed nicely to seal a win on his first rally since 2019’s Wexford Stages Rally.
Having been out of the car for so long, Stafford admitted he wasn’t sure whether he would be able to challenge for a win in Cork.
“We were surprised to be honest,” said Stafford. “We thought it would take a while to bed in and we weren’t really sure where we would be.
“[Winning the national section] took a bit of time to sink in really. I didn’t think the stages would really suit us as well as what they did.
“When I came home and thought about it yesterday evening it started to sink it. I was really happy, over the moon about it.”
Stafford reckoned Cork 20’s Saturday afternoon shakedown really helped his confidence heading into Sunday morning’s opening stage. In fact, the two-wheel-drive man was full of praise for the organising team.
“It was a credit to the club the way the rally was run. From the first stage to the last stage, each one ran on time like clockwork.
“You’d expect the first rally back to have some issues but definitely not, it was the complete opposite, they did a great job.
“One thing I noticed yesterday was the amount of spectators that were out watching the rally. The ditches were lined in places and I hadn’t seen that in a long time.
“Even before Covid came in there weren’t that many spectators. But Sunday was just unreal. Fair play to all the marshals that showed up too, they clearly did a great job.
“I must thank the WRP boys for doing a great job in service, all my sponsors, and to Jeff on the notes as well because he kept me cool at times.”
It’s back to work for Stafford now, however, as he fixes his Darrian’s mechanical issues ahead of the Wexford Stages Rally. Stafford’s local event runs over six stages on 17 October.
He won’t want to miss it either, he has an overall win from 2019 to defend!
Photos by Roger Dawson and Adam Hall