The 2018 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship got underway with an exciting opening round on Saturday last with Carrick on Suir Motor Club’s Willie Loughman Memorial Forest Rally. The first major Irish rally of the year incorporated the Michael O’Brien Plant Hire J1000 series for 15-19 year olds which entered its second season and last year’s champion Jason Murphy from Shrule took up where he left off last year, dominating the event winning 8 out of the 9 forest stages.
The traditional Irish Forestry series opener took place a couple of weeks earlier this year, filling the void left by the Galway International Rally which announced last November that it would not be running in 2018, but this did not detracted from the quality and quantity of entries with 80 crews crossing the start ramp on Saturday morning.
17 year old Jason who had his uncle Matthew in the co-drivers seat of his 1litre Peugeot 107 faced stiff opposition with Aoife Gahan geared up for her first full championship season in a Chevrolet Spark and British Rally Championship regular Peter Beaton from Scotland taking part, also in a Peugeot 107.
The opening stage in the Faugheen forests seen Beaton quickest out of the blocks but with only 3.6 seconds separating the top 3 of Beaton, Gahan and Murphy in that order, fans of the J1000 series knew they were in for a cracker. On Stage 2 which seen the crews head for the Anner Forest area Murphy exerted his ability stopping the clocks 12 seconds faster than Beaton and moving in to an 8 second lead, a lead which he refused to relinquish and when Aoife Gahan retired after an off road excursion resulted in her damaging the steering in her Chevrolet on stage 6, the last 3 stages which were ran in the darkness were a battle between Ireland and Scotland. Although Murphy held a lead of 40 seconds over Beaton, this could change instantly as the crews bolted on the lamp pods to their cars and headed into the most challenging part of the rally for the competitors and the most exciting for all the spectators.
Shortly into the first night stage disaster struck for the young Scotsman when mechanical trouble forced him to pull over his Peugeot during the stage and relinquish any chance of a fightback, with this the Murphy's knew that all they had to do was to hold their nerve and concentrate on getting to the finish line. A task that may sound easy but with almost 20 km of gravel stages yet to compete they knew any lapse in concentration could prove detrimental in the dark, and it almost ended in misfortune for the them as they carried to much speed into the final corner of the penultimate stage, resulting in their Peugeot sliding wide off the track and colliding with a tree stump on the outside of the corner, but fortunately for the South Mayo crew Mother Nature had offered assistance as the tree stump was decaying and luckily for the crew it disintegrated upon impact with the passenger’s side of the Peugeot 107. Thanking their lucky stars they went on to complete the final stage and return to the finish ramp in Carrick on Suir ecstatic with their performance in Tipperary and looking forward to round two in Limerick on the first weekend in March.