2018 marked the third consecutive championship winning year for James Wilson, as he clinched the coveted Valvoline Motorsport Ireland Irish Forestry Rally Championship Junior title last Saturday with a resounding performance on the Bushwhacker Rally.
James from Keady, County Armagh and his County Derry co-driver Gavin Doherty in their Road Tankers Armagh Peugeot 208 R2 had a beautifully controlled drive to claim second place in the category and take the title, which was a head to head contest between four drivers on in the Omagh forests. “It’s brilliant to take this title, it means a lot as it was a superb championship with intense competition, and it makes it three different titles in three seasons for me. I wasn’t really focused on the championship on Saturday, we just drove our own event, as we had no great expectations, after a puncture and a fourth place on the previous round in Enniskillen. However the team as always had put the effort into the preparation and we felt very happy with the car and moved into the class lead with two loops of stages to go. The stages were great fun with some very high speed sections, and corners were you could really throw the car about at high-speed.” It wasn’t just speed that was required on this round however but endurance as the stages began to take their toll. “The ruts were getting deep and it was hard on the car, and I said to Gavin we are going to back off on the last two loops, and it did punish the cars. Two of our championship rivals Jordan Hone and Derek Mackeral were unfortunate to have mechanical breakdowns, and we were glad that our tactics paid off this time and we made it to the finish unscathed.”
By easing the pace, the team dropped to second in the class on the day behind the similar 208 R2 of William Creighton, but importantly it ensured the Philip White Tyres supported machine took them to the top spot in the championship.
“It was the NI Junior win in 2016 that kicked it off as regards titles, and then the Irish Tarmac R2 win last season, but the forestry one this year is special, as it was out first proper foray into the forests and we enjoyed them so much.”
Another highlight of the year was the nomination for the Motorsport Ireland Billy Coleman Award and James will go in front of the judging panel in the coming months hoping to land that 50,000€ prize. “Our focus is on that now and planning 2019. We want to have a proper attack at the MSA British Rally Championship (BRC), and next year’s calendar looks even more attractive than this years so it’s all go for us.”
Thanks to continued support from TEC Industrial through-out the year, MVT Vehicle Transport in the latter half of the season, and product support from Kumho through Ears Motorsport Ireland, the team have had their highs and lows, but ultimately came out winners.
“I suppose clinching the Forestry title was a big high-light, but so was just competing on the two day Cork Forestry. Those stages were amazing, so smooth and fast especially up were the wind turbines were being erected. Probably looking back the worst memory by far was our mistake on the Ulster Rally, but the best was finishing in third place amongst the BRC runners on our first visit to Ypres in Belgium. That was some event, a real adventure!”
Rallying is an expensive sport requiring not just sporting commitment and prowess but continued financial sacrifices, and with the right support for 2019 James, his co-driver Gavin Doherty and the team based at their County Armagh garage can continue to drive forward in the sport.