Omagh Motor Club’s Fivemiletown Rally returns after a year out this Saturday. The first round of 2022’s Northern Ireland Forest Challenge has attracted an impressive entry of top four-wheel- and two-wheel-drive gravel experts.
Fivemiletown’s top two seeds, Desi Henry and Cathan McCourt, are both chasing their maiden victory on the Tyrone event. Both are Irish Forest Rally champions but will have 2014 Fivemiletown winner Mark Donnelly’s Rally2 Ford Fiesta breathing down their necks.
Speaking to Rally Insight last week, McCourt revealed his desire for a Fivemiletown win in his recently purchased Ford Fiesta S2000 Turbo.
In fact, with Vivian Hamill, Jason Mitchell, Gareth Mimnagh, Conor McCourt, and Gareth Sayers following in a variety of World Rally and Rally2/R5 cars; any one of the top eight could seriously challenge for victory in Fivemiletown.
With around 60 stage kilometres on offer, crews are in for a treat on the Fintona-based rally.
“We have all the usual classics,” said event manager Niall McGonigle. “We have mixed them up a little bit in fairness. There are some small sections that people will have never used before.
“The stages are in great shape after getting a rest for a year because we didn’t get going in 2021.
“Jenkin is known all over the country for being a fast stage. There are some stages like Mullaghfad and Crocknagrally that are tight and technical. Doon is then quite open and fast.”
Event sponsor, Martynas Samsonas, will arrive in Northern Ireland in good form after competing on several European rallies in recent weeks. He’ll be the man to beat in two-wheel-drive although several Irish regulars will be battling hard to prove otherwise.
David Condell, David Crossen, Adrian Hetherington, Frank Kelly, Shane McGirr, and John Gordon will reconvene in Fintona for another epic gravel fight for bragging rights.
Condell came out on top in 2020 while Crossen was NI’s most recent gravel victor on September’s Bushwhacker Rally.
Michael Carbin and co-driver Conor Mohan lead the Mitsubishi Evo brigade ahead of Niall Devine, and Derek Mackarel who is waiting to show his full four-wheel-drive potential on gravel.
Fivemiletown Rally schedule
SS1 // Jenkin 1, 11.3 km – 09:44
SS2 // Mullaghfad 1, 2.6 km – 10:12
SS3 // Crocknagrally 1, 5.1 km – 10:30
Regroup // Fivemiletown High School
SS4 // Doon 1, 3.5 km – 11:35
SS5 // Jenkin 2, 11.3 km – 11:58
Service // Ecclesville Centre, Fintona
SS6 // Doon 2, 3.5 km – 14:16
SS7 // Jenkin 3, 7.6 km – 14:39
SS8 // Mullaghfad 2, 2.6 km – 15:07
SS9 // Crocknagrally 2, 5.1 km – 15:25
2022 Northern Ireland Forest Challenge calendar
R1 // Fivemiletown Rally – 26 February
R2 // Lakeland Stages Rally – 3 September
R3 // Bushwhacker Rally – 17 September
Photos by Mark McCullagh