Speedy Staffords sweep to Ravens Rock Rally success

A WEEK AGO, James Stafford called his co-driver James F. Stafford and said: “Will we do the ‘Rock’?”

A WEEK AGO, James Stafford called his co-driver James F. Stafford and said: “Will we do the ‘Rock’?”

The call proved to be a worthwhile one. Move the clock ahead a week and the two Wexford men stepped out of their Darrian T90 GTR on the finish ramp as winners of the 2012 Ravens Rock Rally, writes Trevor McGrath.

The Staffords had to battle hard for the spoils, but gave an incredible display to take a start to finish win. Their victory was even more remarkable as their Darrian is rear wheel drive and their arch rivals John Joe Fleming and Kevin Barrett were driving four wheel drive WRC machinery.

With grins from ear to ear both Stafford boys were ecstatic win their victory.

“We grabbed an early lead on the first loop and from there battled to stay in front,” said a delighted driver James. “We are both thrilled with the win.

“The weather played a major part in our success,” he added. “When it started to rain on Saturday it looked like we were in for a tough event but I was grateful to see the grey clouds had blown away by Sunday morning and that the sun had return. The stages were dry and John Rafter and the Carrick Motor Club had organised a great event.”

The result was a fitting finale to the Ravens Rock Rally, which rolled into the Marble City at the weekend for the third year in succession. This year’s offering was the culmination of three years of hard work for Threecastles man John Rafter who, as Clerk of the Course, worked as hard as ever with his team to deliver a top class event.

The rally did not disappoint as there were hotly contested battles throughout the various classes but the event was tinged with sadness as days earlier Gareth Roberts, co-driver to Carrick Motor Club member Craig Breen, lost his life in a tragic accident on the Targa Florio Rally in Sicily.

Welshman Roberts had been taken to the hearts of the Irish motorsports family, many of whom paid tribute in a special way at the rally. A book of condolence for Roberts was opened in the Rally Office - every driver, co-driver, event official and rally fan that entered the room made the book their first port of call.

The rally kicked off on Saturday with the Ceremonial Start on High Street at 7pm. Over the previous two years the Rock was blessed with sunny shine and blue skies, but this time the clouds rolled in and the rain began to fall. Despite this Clerk of the Course John Rafter was quick to make the decision that the event would not be put off by the inclement weather.

Dougie Hughes, the voice of Irish motorsport, was on hand to declare the 2012 Ravens Rock Rally officially open. He began with a tribute to Gareth Roberts, detailing the Welsh co-driver’s victory a year ago in the hot seat of the Kel-Tech Fiesta S2000 with Craig Breen. Instead of a minute’s silence Dougie called for a round of applause in recognition of Gareth.

Commemorative sticker

As a mark of respect to Roberts a special commemorative sticker was designed for each of the competing cars to carry, honouring the co-driver. The tribute resonated throughout the rallying world over the weekend, in Belgium at IRC Rally Ypres a sticker was also placed on the competing cars and this was echoed on the other side of the globe in New Zealand on the latest round of the WRC, where at the ceremonial start a minute’s silence was also acknowledged.

In total over 30 crews braved the wet weather to drive over the ceremonial start ramp. Top of the list were Kevin Barrett and Sean Mullally with their Subaru Impreza WRC S11. They were followed by number three seed James Stafford driving his Darrian T90 GTR.

Moving to Sunday morning, before the first gear was selected there was a news flash from service as Denis Cronin was a non-starter. The word out on the stages was even though the rain from Saturday night had cleared and the sun was out that there were still damp and slippy patches on the roads. James Stafford in the Darrian set the pace on stage one with a time of 5 mins 31 secs. Fergus O’Meara (Ford Escort Mk11) was 10 seconds away. There was a flock of crews tying for equal third on 5.42 including top seed Kevin Barrett. John Joe Fleming in the WRC Ford Focus and Damien McCarthy in the Honda Civic also set great times.

On stage two Stafford was again fastest, pulling out another seven second faster than John Joe Fleming on the test. Fergus O’Meara took third on his own but was only ahead of Kevin Barrett in fourth. Damien McCarthy, with Sorcha Kelly calling the notes, was fifth. Top club member after stage two was Shay Power in the Escort Mk11 who held eighth overall with his daughter Katie in the co-driver’s seat.

Moving to stage three Stafford set his third fastest time in a row but was equalled on this occasion by John Joe Fleming in the Focus. Kevin Barrett moved up to third ahead of Damien McCarthy, who now held fourth. Fergus O’Meara dropped time on the final stage in the loop when he had a minor off and hit bales near a bridge. Shay Power in eighth continued to uphold club honours but on reaching service reported a clutch problem and was unsure if he could repair the problem.

Looking down the classes after the first loop, Class Two club members James Dunphy and J.P. Ruth held the lead from Jason Roycroft by just one second. Class Six’s Keith Power, another club member, and Des Moran from Wexford on the notes held a 35-second advantage over Dean Raftery/Aileen Kelly.

In class 10 John Forde was out in front with a 21 second lead over Jimmy Doyle. Mullinavat’s Paschal O’Shea in the Buckstown Motorsport Ford Mk11 was in eighth in the class, 29 seconds in arrears. Class 11 front runner Damien McCarthy was in the lead with Barry Ryan in second and club member Enda O’Brien (Mk11) in third position.

Moving into the second loop Stafford extended his lead by another seven seconds in the rear wheel drive Darrian T90 GTR, moving further clear of John Joe Fleming to lead by 25 on stage four. The Subaru of Kevin Barrett was third 11 seconds down on Fleming and 25 behind Stafford. Damien O’Meara was just off the top three in the Mk11. There was high praise for Co Cavan’s Chris Armstrong in another Mk11 Escort who was in seventh overall and leading Class 13.

Club member Shay Power was a non-starter as the clutch trouble he reported in service proved terminal. This elevated Enda O’Brien to head the club brigade.

Fastest time

After setting fastest time of the opening four stages Stafford had to be satisfied with second quickest on SS5. The WRC Focus of J.J. Fleming set the pace over the test, taking back 12 seconds in the process, cutting the gap between the top two to just 13 seconds. Kevin Barrett in the Triton Showers Subaru competed the top three.

Fourth, fifth and sixth in Mk11 Escorts were Fergus O’Meara, Barry Ryan and Chris Armstrong respectively. Lloyd Hutchinson was doing a giant-killing job in eighth place overall in his Austin Mini Cooper S.

The second loop was completed with stage six and after losing time on the previous test James Stafford was back on the top of the time sheets. He took the stage by two seconds from Fleming, extending his lead back out to 15 seconds. Barrett remained in third but was now over a minute behind.

The Honda honours continued to be upheld by Damien McCarthy in fourth with the three Escorts of Fergus O’Meara, Barry Ryan and Chris Armstrong following in fifth, sixth and seventh respectively. James Dunphy continued to lead Class Two while Graham Scallan was in charge of Class Four. Keith Power was having a fine drive in the Clio Super 1600 and held a 1 min 12 lead in Class Six.

Kilkenny’s Noel Coogan was over a minute and a half ahead of Edward McNamara in Class Seven while in Class Nine Lloyd Hutchinson in the Mini held a clean advantage of over 4 min to Shane Stanley. Eamonn McGuigan held a slender lead of only two seconds from father and son team of Alan and James Commins in Class 12. “I’m trying to get used to a new sequential gearbox and it’s taking a while to bed in,” Alan said at the end of the stage.

John Hickey led the way in Class 15 with Jer Connors and Gemma Kerley in third. Both Class 16A and Class 16B were the junior classes who were on their first loop of the day. Eamonn Bates held a commanding lead of two minutes over Tonya Fortune in Class 16A with Alison Levis in third. The battle was much closer in Class16B. James Bradley (Honda Civic) topped the class but had just a six-second lead on Rob Duggan in another Civic, with Vincent McSweeney third in another Civic.

Praying that the weather would stay kind Stafford started the final loop by extending his lead on stage seven to pull out the advantage over Fleming to 47 seconds. This was helped after Fleming’s SS5 time was amended to 5:44, 17 seconds slower than what was originally posted on the results. Third-placed Barrett was more relaxed. “I have a new engine and we changed to a harder tyre compound but the two in front have a nice lead,” he said after service.

The battle roared on during the penultimate test as Stafford and Fleming set the equal fastest time. However, it was the Wexford man who held the advantage going into the final test. With the top two fighting for the win, Barrett was content to hold station and remained in third.

Outside the top three there was also a battle brewing for fourth position. Damien McCarthy filled the slot, but on SS8 Fergus O’Meara pulled back his two-second disadvantage to move level on time going into the final test.

Moving on to the final stage James Stafford and James F. Stafford secured the 2012 Ravens Rock Rally by clocking the fastest time yet again. John Joe Fleming never gave up, but ended the day 34 second down in the Ford Focus WRC. Rounding off the top three was Kevin Barrett, with Sean Mullally calling the notes.

The contest for fourth place went all the way to the wire. Damien McCarthy took the position by one second to secure the Class 11 victory and the Spirit of the Rally Award. With Fergus O’Meara taking fifth plus the class 14 win, it was Barry Ryan in sixth and second in class 11.

Great performance

Chris Armstrong and Breen McNamee rounded off a great performance with seventh overall and a Class 13 win. Giant-killers Lloyd Hutchinson and Willie Fitzpatrick took eighth overall and Class Nine honours. Ninth place overall and a Class Six win went to Keith Power and Des Moran, with Keith being the first Carrick-on-Suir club member home. Rounding off the top 10 were Enda O’Brien and John Butler in their Mk11 Escort.

Class wrap-up: Class 2 winners James Dunphy and J.P. Ruth. Class 4 (Group N) winners Graham and Tom Scallan. Class Five winners Philip Jennings and Jonathon Jennings. Class Seven winners Noel Coogan and Mick Coady. Class Eight winners Seamus Flynn and Ian Munnelly. Class 10 winners Jimmy Doyle and Andrew Griffin. Class 12 winners were father and son team of Alan and James Commins - Alan dedicated the win to his daughter Chloe who is going to Australia. John Hickey and John McCarthy were just outside the top 10 in 11th place but took Class 15 honours.

Class 16A went to Eamonn Bates and Jason Stafford. Class 16B winners and the overall Junior Award title went to James Bradley and Maria Kehoe. It was a double joy for Maria as she celebrated her birthday over the weekend. Victory in the historic section went to Seamus Anderson and Lisa Knox in their Ford Anglia.

Proceedings came to a close with the awards ceremony at Rally HQ in the Kilford Arms on Sunday evening. Terence Kearney, club chairman, thanked all who took part in the event, and the rally sponsors. He also congratulated Clerk of the Course John Rafter and his team for their three years of dedicated work, which has brought the Ravens Rock to new heights of professionalism.

Next on the microphone, Rafter paid tribute to Suirway Forklifts/Farm Machinery, The Kilford Arms Hotel and Chancellors Mill for their sustained support. He also thanked his rally staff, stage commanders and marshals from both Carrick and the neighbouring clubs, as well as rescue personnel, time-keepers and radio operators who helped to make the 2012 edition of the Ravens Rock Rally such a roaring success.

2012 Ravens Rock Rally, Top 10 - 1 James Stafford/James F. Stafford (Darrian T90 GTR), 56.41; 2 John Joe Fleming/Robbie Ward (Ford Focus WRC), 57.15; 3 Kevin Barrett/Sean Mullally (Subaru Impreza WRC S11), 57.33; 4 Damien McCarthy/Sorcha Kelly (Honda Civic), 58.22; 5 Fergus O’Meara/Diarmuid Lynch (Ford Escort Mk2), 58.23; 6 Barry Ryan/John Young (Ford Escort Mk2), 59.10; 7 Chris Armstrong/Breen McNamee (Ford Escort RS2000), 59.22; 8 Lloyd Hutchinson/Willie Fitzpatrick (Austin Mini Cooper S), 59.27; 9 Keith Power/Des Moran (Renault Clio Super 1600), 59.58; 10 Enda O’Brien/John Butler (Ford Escort Mk2), 1.00.21.