Maximum scores on two rallies in the middle of the season formed a solid foundation for the national rally title Seamus Cooke and Gerard Hyland won in their MkII Escort this year.
The Cavan duo didn"t start the year with such a grand plan, but that"s how it worked out for them and they"re now the 2008 Hankook Two-Wheel Forestry champions.
The lads are first cousins and started their rallying together eight years ago. The old story (lack of budget) meant they usually do only two or three rallies a season, and at the start of they year they thought they"d go to Mitchelstown for what would be their first forestry event.
'We hired a car from Brendan Barrett and went for fun,' said Seamus, and 'we had the best day"s craic ever. We finished 18th overall and won the class by eight minutes.'
Up to stage seven the Cavan crew were 13th overall but the Escort"s clutch broke on the second last stage and they struggled through the final eight-kilometre test in second gear. It didn"t matter though, as they had enough time in hand to secure the win in class one (up to 1300).
The following round was in Carrick-on-Suir and the lads showed their enthusiasm by signing up, despite the 5am start. 'We said we"d go and do it as well,' Seamus explained. 'The first three stages were in darkness and we got sixth fastest overall on the second one.
'We had a good charge on the first three stages because we knew we"d catch a few lads on the hop, but we dropped back later in the day and finished 12th overall.'
Seamus was delighted to take a minute from his nearest class rival, JJ Wall in a more powerful Peugeot 106 Maxi.
Did they start thinking about the championship at that stage? Seamus offered a mixed response to that query, but a non-finish because of driveshaft failure on the next round, the Tommy White Memorial Rally in Limerick didn"t matter much as their main rivals also failed to score.
The next two rallies - the Moonraker in Waterford and the Wexford round - were, according to Seamus, 'the making of the championship. Shane McGirr came down to both, and though he wasn"t registered, we pushed ourselves to the absolute to match him. He"s the benchmark. We were beating him, but my lack of experience showed and I threw it away... I spun.'
That mishap dropped Seamus and Gerard behind their rival, but they still finished the rally (17s behind McGirr) and scored maximum points.
'It was a clean battle both days, no problems for either of us,' said Seamus. 'We pushed so hard to stay with him (McGirr) that it brought us way up overall, far higher than otherwise, and we got the points in the overall 2WD category.
'On the first three stages in Wexford we were on exactly the same times. Shane was delighted; he reckoned it was the best battle he"d had in a long time. He said he was pushed to limit in Wexford, he wouldn"t want to go any faster.
'The Wexford rally was one of the best days ever,' Seamus added.
The following round, in Cork, was a two-day rally compressed into one, and the Cavan team suffered with the car windows misting in the heavy rain and with a faulty intercom. But they were still leading their class and in the top 20 after four stages, 'mixing it with the top junior drivers', as Seamus put it.
'SS5 was the longest of the year, 17 miles, and we put on a good push and extended our lead to 1m 40s from Andrew Fanning in a Ford Ka Super 1400. But on SS6 the differential packed up a mile in and that was end of that. But James Coleman and Ollie Williams, our rivals in the overall 2WD category, didn"t finish either, so it left it that all wasn"t lost.'
It meant that in the last round of the series, at Birr, Seamus and Gerard just had to finish to wrap up the title.
'It was hard to drive, I nearly crashed because I was braking earlier, where you wouldn"t usually brake,' he said.
'We picked up pace as the day went on because that was the only way we could concentrate. We finished 21st overall and won the class by five minutes.'
Seamus had a list of people he wanted to thank, mainly his cousin and co-driver: 'Without him keeping me on the road and pushing me on in places it wouldn"t have happened,' he said. 'And he helped financially as well. I would like to thank all the sponsors and my family, Barrett Rally Hire in Drumshambo, and Noel Lappin and Nigel Creigh for all the work on the car.
'We ran most of the year on second-hand tyres and at the very end, Hankook gave us a set of tyres for the last two rounds, so we have to thank them as well.'
What does his rallying future hold then? 'It was the more satisfying getting it when we didn"t plan it and it would be a big ambition to defend the title but realistically it"s not going to happen,' said Seamus.
'It depends on sponsorship, but I"ll probably be a spectator next year, and I"ll concentrate on helping in Cavan Motor Club.'
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|Date:||Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 5:47:00 AM|