For the second time in as many events, John McGlaughlin and co-driver Crawford Henderson emerged as winners of the Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge Ireland, following a day-long battle with current series leaders Neil MCance and Sean Ferris. This time, it was the County Meath-based ALMC Stages Rally – round six of the Irish Group N Mitsubishi series – where they came out on top after a dramatic final stage.
Starting and finishing from the City North Hotel near Drogheda, the rally followed a traditional one-day Irish rally format of three stages run three times, with a service halt separating each loop of 48 kilometres. The popular event saw an overall entry of 130 cars, eight of which made up the Evo Challenge field.
Fastest out off the blocks were MCance/Ferris, who set a time good enough to place them second in the event overall and nine seconds ahead of the next-placed Evo crew of Alan Carmichael and Ivor Lamont. Carmichael reported that his car was sliding more than he had expected on the opening stage due to the changing grip levels of the rapidly drying road surface, but he and Lamont were ahead of McGlaughlin/Henderson by three seconds.
Others finding the going unpredictable were William Mavitty/Keefe Kilcoyne, who were pushing hard in their Evo VI in fourth, followed by Stanley Ballantine/Donnacha O'Callaghan in fifth, who had overcome a few first-stage frights caused by fading brakes. Geoff McMahon/Robert Graham were sixth and getting used to their new environment, having hired the James Foley Rallysport Mitsubishi Evolution X for this event.
At the first service halt after the opening loop of three stages, the time sheets showed McCance/Ferris as the pace-setters and holding an advantage of 28 seconds ahead of Carmichael/Lamont, who had been slowed on SS2 when negotiating a crashed car. McGlaughlin/Henderson were just one second behind in third, McGlaughlin admitting that having spun in SS2 he was perhaps trying too hard.
Tom White/Robert Murphy were off to a solid start, but had the JFR team check their car's oil level at service, having seen traces of smoke behind the car. Thankfully, the fault was found to be nothing serious. Liam Egan /Mary O'Kane were another crew pleased to get through the first batch of stages, with Egan reporting he was rebuilding his confidence following his off last time out in round five.
The next loop saw Carmichael/Lamont and McGlaughlin/Henderson determined to get closer to the leaders. However, for the second-placed crew SS5 signalled the end of the road, when a heavy impact with a bank towards the end of the stage disappointingly forced them into retirement.
As it turned out, the accumulated times of McCance/Ferris and McGlaughlin/Henderson for the second set of three stages was exactly the same, meaning that it was status quo for the two front-runners. Behind them, Ballantine/O'Callaghan were now gathering pace and causing Mavitty/Kilcoyne to look in their mirrors.
Also setting faster times as they became more familiar with their car were McMahon/Graham, while White/Murphy were also gaining time as their engine worries were now over. However, for Egan/O'Kane it was now a case of just getting to the finish when their car's gearbox suddenly lost fourth and reverse.