Damien Tourish and co-driver Domhall McAllaney recorded their third Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge Ireland victory in a row on the Murphy Construction/Weathermaster Cork 20 Rally last weekend.

However, their perfect performance in the second half of the season was still not enough to claim the series title - that accolade going to Brendan Cumiskey, who's third place was enough for him to become the very first Irish Evolution Challenge Champion.

Taking place on September 27-28, the Cork "20" Rally is a classic in the Irish motorsport calendar. This year's event featured eight stages on Saturday followed by a further six on Sunday, the total of which provided crews with an overall competitive distance of 240 kilometres.

Before the event, four drivers were in a position to win the Mitsubishi series crown, with Cumiskey best placed to achieve success, having only to finish fifth or higher in order to claim the title.

However, although this appeared easy on paper, in reality it soon became a different matter when, about four kilometres before the end of the first stage, the Dundalk driver slid straight-on at a junction and planted his Mitsubishi into a hedge. With significant damage to the front of his car, coupled with a leaking radiator, he and co-driver Connor Foley were lucky to make it out of the stage.

Needing to stem the water-loss somehow, the resourceful crew stopped at the nearest shop and bought a supply of chewing gum and eggs, which they proceed to insert into the damaged radiator before topping it up with water. With the second stage stopped because of an accident, Cumiskey/Foley were given a notional time, which in-turn helped them stay in contention. Thankfully the first service halt followed and their car was repaired.

Fastest of the Mitsubishi crews on the opening stage were Owen Murphy/Rodney Hicks. However, their advantage was quickly lost in SS2 when they first clipped a rock and punctured the front-left tyre and then, with the car not handling erratically, they clipped something else and punctured the right rear tyre.

With only one spare on board they stopped and changed the front wheel, but unfortunately the flailing rubber from the rear damaged some of their car's wiring - just before they made it back to service - and their rally came to a halt.

Other Evo Challengers to fall foul of the opening stages were Michael Murray/Thomas Maguire, who clipped a bank and damaged their Lancer's intercooler. Although managing to fix things at the side of the road, they too were late into service and went over their maximum time allowed.

There were no such dramas for Tourish/McAlleney who were now in a clear lead following the demise of Murphy/Hicks. However, in the following loop of stages they felt their car lose power, which resulted in a turbo and then a fuel pump replacement at the next service halt.

Behind them, another crew in with a chance of the title were Alan Carmichael/Ivor Lamont, who were playing a waiting game, just in case anything happened to Tourish and Cumiskey. Also having a relatively trouble-free run were Stanley Ballentine/Richard Hyland, only a problem with handbrake activation causing them any cause for concern and a few embarrassing moments at hairpins.

At the end of Saturday time sheets showed Tourish/McAlleney enjoying a commanding lead of nearly three minutes ahead of Carmichal/Lamont. Ballentine/Hyland held third place, whilst Cumiskey/Foley were still soldiering-on in fourth.

With the onset of light rain on Sunday morning, the stages took on a different character - as Carmichael and Lamont can testify. Following a fast section of road, they slid wide at a right-hander, clipped a bank with the left rear wheel and damaged their car's suspension to such an extent they decided not to continue.

As the roads dried out and the gap between the leading three Evo Challenge crews became unlikely to change - unless mechanical issues intervened - positions were held until the finish and Tourish/McAlleney crossed the line to record their third successive Irish Mitsubishi series win.

However, it was a bitter-sweet success, as Cumiskey admitted he had 'cruised' during the final stages to ensure he made it back to the finish and, in doing so, became the very first Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge champion.

"When we went off on stage one I thought that was it", said Cumiskey. "But you must never give up. I'm delighted to have made it to the finish and become the first ever Evo Challenge Champion."

Tourish's performance was such that he also finished fifth overall and second in Group N, but he admitted he was a little disappointed not to have claimed the Evo Challenge crown.

"I'm sure that if I hadn't had to miss the first to rounds of the season things might have been different as far as the championship is concerned. However, I'm really pleased with the way the rally has gone this weekend and to take my third Evo Challenge win," he added.

By claiming the Evo Challenge title, Cumiskey wins an entry into Rally Ireland driving a James Foley Rallysport prepared Group N Mitsubishi. Tourish finishes second in the series and wins a batch of Pirelli tyres - plus becomes the PIAA Junior Champion and receives a PIAA lamp pod.

Carmichael's consistent performance during the season netted him third place in the standings and he also wins a batch of Pirelli tyres.

Evo Challenge organisers are currently making plans for the 2009 series, details of which will be announced in the next few weeks.



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