THREE Tyrone drivers were involved in a fairly dramatic weekend at Rally Islas Canarias on Gran Canaria.
The event was the final round of the European Rally Championship and it attracted a host of top drivers like WRC regular Craig Breen, and Andreas Mikkelsen, as well as eventual overall champion Aleksey Lukyanuk and junior title winner, Oliver Solberg and his Fintona co-driver Aaron Johnston.
While the big names set the pace, Cathan McCourt, Jason Mitchell and Gareth Sayers were catching the eye with some superb times, but that pace did not come without incident during an event run in wet and foggy conditions rather than the sun-splashed dry tarmac expected.
Dromore’s McCourt, who had Barry McNulty on the notes, was well inside the top 30 for a time before a turbo issue in their Mk II Ford Fiesta R5 forced their retirement.
Just behind was Victoria Bridge’s Jason Mitchell, who had experienced Dunamanagh co-driver Peter Ward on the notes. Mitchell again belied his lack of experience on tarmac, and in rallying generally, by finishing a stunning 39th overall in only his second ever road rally.
Initially, his lack of experience told as he ‘cooked the brakes’ on stage one, which led to a frightening moment on stage four when his brake pedal hit the floor on the approach to a corner. He took evasive action, with a quick handbrake turn and high-speed spin to avoid disaster.
That incident apart, he was delighted with how things went: “I really had to change my driving and attitude to the rally as I just realised I didn’t have the experience or the know-how to take on such a challenging rally,” explained the Fiesta R5 driver.
“I said to myself ‘just get 17 stages of experience, that is a result on its own’.
“The whole event was mind blowing [and] the big positive is, I believe while I have the speed but not the experience, this weekend will hopefully give me what I need to start pushing on.
“I was coming home in the plane last night [Sunday] and looked at the final result for the rally and it was very satisfying to know where the time is to move up the ladder a bit.”
Castlederg’s Sayers, meanwhile, finished 46th overall on his debut outside Ireland, although his pace would suggest he could well have been pushing for the top 30 with a little better luck.
Behind the wheel of his R5 Fiesta and with Liam McIntyre on the notes, Sayers overcame some early mechanical and cosmetic issues with a little help from his friends!
FULL STORY IN THURSDAY’S STRABANE CHRONICLE