After one of the most dramatic Cork 20 International rallies in recent history, where difficult weather conditions including standing water on the special stages, made the going tricky, twenty-two year old James Wilson from Keady, County Armagh and his Derry co-driver Gavin Doherty in their Peugeot 208 R2 took the R2 category victory on the event and the Clonakilty Black Pudding Irish Tarmac Championship R2 title as well, after a very hard fought season.
It’s a championship win which earns them a free entry to a Belgian Championship event. The battle was on all weekend between James and the similar 208 R2 driven by Belfast’s William Creighton, in a “winner takes all” scenario. It was Creighton who took the lead initially after stage two, but in the slippery conditions James moved into a 6.9 second lead with a faster time on stage three. It could have been a bigger lead had the time for stages four counted but a stage interruption meant that all the crews received the same time. As conditions dried out for the second loop William Creighton turned the tide as James found himself with too soft a set up and William took full advantage opening up a thirty-one second advantage over James after day ones eight stages. Sunday morning and things took a turn for the worse for James and Gavin team on the first stage when a brake pipe fractured and two minutes were lost to class leader Creighton on the loop as they limped to service. “We were happy with our position after day one and were enjoying the conditions to some extent even though they were very tricky in places. It’s out first year in a powerful R2 machine and in left hand drive, and things have been progressing nicely. The brake failure on day two was a major setback there was no doubting that, and at that point we couldn’t catch William, who was going very well, and we were settling for second.”
But the Cork lanes had a final twist, and it was Creighton’s turn to have misfortune on stage eleven, retiring after over-turning the 208 in the treacherous conditions. So James and Gavin survived the sixteen tough tests to take victory, in their first season with the French pocket rocket. “It’s been such a tough weekend, very hard to push all the time in the conditions and there were many casualties. We thought it was all over on Sunday morning, but rallying is a funny sport and we got to the finish. It’s fantastic to win this category, and take the prize in our first year of trying, and a big thanks to all my sponsors whose assistance has been invaluable. Also thanks to the team who have worked hard all year through the good times and the setbacks “ said the young engineer.
The Keady driver won the Junior category in the 2016 ANICC Northern Ireland Rally Championship, using a Peugeot 106, before the family team invested in a brand new left hand drive Peugeot 208 R2 from Peugeot Sport in France, and now he’s not looking back. “In 2018 we aim to contest the Irish Tarmac series once again, and also the Irish National Forest Championship, which will give us valuable loose surface experience with the car, so it’s all systems go!” Now the search is on for sponsorship and James is keen to acknowledge the help that Philip White Tyres, Road Tankers Armagh, James Wilson Garage Services, DC Drive and Herrons Country Fried Chicken has given him this year.