Last weekend’s Modern Tyres Ulster Rally – the seventh and final points scoring round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship – produced not one but two important champagne moments for the thousands of fans who attended the two-day event and witnessed the action unfold.
Competing in a Volkswagen Polo R5, the Welsh pairing of Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson conquered wet roads, greasy country lanes and bone-dry asphalt to end the nine stages with a lead of over two minutes to clinch their first-ever win in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
The rally victors inherited top spot early in the second day after Desi Henry and co-driver Paddy Robinson (Ford Fiesta Rally2) bowed out with steering damage. That put Evans and Jackson in the lead by 23 seconds which they would go on to extend over the remainder of the event. With the endline in sight, though, they decided to dial their speed back so as not to get caught out by the changeable conditions evident in the Newry and Banbridge areas.
“I was driving the last few stages really slow – it felt horrible if I’m being honest,” said Evans. “I found myself listening out for noises and thinking the worst. Fair play to Josh, though. He was doing that all weekend; having to avoid everything is no fun. It is so good to finally get the win. There are a lot of good names on this trophy, so to be a part of that wow, yeah, awesome!”
There were also celebrations taking place in the Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes camp. They did what was asked of them at the Northern Ireland Motor Club showpiece by completing both the Friday and Saturday legs well inside the points scoring places to be crowned Irish Tarmac Rally champions for a second time. Their first title was secured as a partnership back in 2018.
“I’m over the moon with the result,” said Moffett, who resisted the temptation to push for a podium on the Ulster – something that has been a regular occurrence for the Hyundai i20 R5 driver across this season. “I had to knock it back a few gears this weekend given what was at stake – I had to keep that in mind. Getting to the finish is such a relief. It was harder to drive this way this weekend but we weren’t prepared to take any chances,” he added.
Reigning Northern Ireland Rally champion Jonathan Greer had been expected to challenge for the win but an overshoot early on Saturday effectively killed off any prospect of that happening and so holding on to second place became the priority for the Carryduff man. Rally newcomer Jason Mitchell did not make life easy for him, however, as he steadily grew in confidence with every passing mile sitting alongside Paddy McCrudden.
A slow puncture three stages from the end – which Greer and Niall Burns elected to continue driving on rather than stop and change – briefly elevated Mitchell into the runner-up spot only for Greer’s experience of competing at the sport’s sharp end helping him to wrestle it back.
Stuart Biggerstaff – the son of Denis and himself a former Northern Ireland Rally Championship title holder – bagged fifth from the fresher Ford Fiesta R5 entered by Niall Henry. Another surname well-known in local motorsport circles graced the top 10 as Michael McGarrity safely brought his father Derek’s Skoda Fabia R5 home in seventh from Marty Toner (BMW 1 Series) in eighth and the two Ford Escort Mk2s of John Devlin and Camillus Bradley in ninth and tenth.
In addition to Desi Henry, Alan Carmichael (Hyundai i20 R5) and modified driver Damian Toner (Ford Escort Mk2) were among the big-names who failed in their efforts to make it to the finish ramp at Modern Tyres’ state-of-the-art facilities at Carnbane Industrial Estate. Toner had been on course for a top five result but a crash on the very last stage put paid to that.
Speaking after the event, Event Director Philip Murray said: “Once again, the team at Northern Ireland Motor Club have pulled off another fantastic Ulster Rally. My congratulations go to them and also rally winners Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson, and new Irish Tarmac champions Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes.
“I must also say a special thanks to our sponsors – Modern Tyres – and the tireless band of volunteers and marshals, without whom running the Ulster Rally would not be possible,” added Murray. “It was great to see so many fans out on the stages, in and around the service park, and at town centre regroups across both days. We look forward to seeing them again in 2023.”
Modern Tyres Ulster Rally – Top 10 results:
1 Meirion Evans / Jonathan Jackson (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) 1h 30m 17.5s;
2 Jonathan Greer / Niall Burns (Citroen C3 Rally2) + 2m 5.3s;
3 Jason Mitchell / Paddy McCrudden (Ford Fiesta Rally2);
4 Josh Moffett / Andy Hayes (Hyundai i20 R5);
5 Stuart Biggerstaff / Anthony Nestor (Ford Fiesta R5);
6 Niall Henry / Barney Mitchell (Ford Fiesta R5);
7 Michael McGarrity / Damian Garvey (Skoda Fabia R5);
8 Marty Toner / Ben Teggart (BMW 1 Series);
9 John Devlin / John McCarthy (Ford Escort Mk2);
10 Camillus Bradley / Crawford Henderson (Ford Escort Mk2).