O’Brien dominates Bushwhacker Rally to claim maiden win

Patrick O’Brien produced a stellar drive to win the Bushwhacker Rally ahead of Cathan McCourt. O’Brien claimed his maiden rally victory on only his second event behind the wheel of an R5 – a Ford Fiesta prepared by AP/Art.

“That’s the first win, it is unbelievable,” said the 24-year-old. “I have to thank all of my sponsors because without them I wouldn’t be fit to hire this. It’s unreal.”

Bushwhacker Rally’s number one seed, Cathan McCourt, was O’Brien’s only serious challenger heading into the final stages. McCourt, who is also competing on Sunday’s Cork 20 International Rally, finished 7.8 seconds behind his Fiesta rival after Bushwhacker’s six gravel stages.

“There was nothing left in there,” said runner-up McCourt after his final stage push. “I have to give it to Paddy, we couldn’t go any harder than we were, he was going hard.”

Garry Jennings was only a handful of seconds behind McCourt halfway through the Bushwhacker Rally. Unfortunately, gearbox trouble hit the Fermanagh driver on the fourth stage. Jennings tried to stay in fifth gear for the rest of the rally and the time loss eventually cost him third place to Vivian Hamill.

“These two boys ahead of us are going well,” said Jennings after Stage 5. “We were on that pace so we’re happy about that but you can’t race them in a four-speed [gearbox].”

The only other crew to threaten O’Brien’s dominant performance was Jason Mitchell and Peter Ward. Mitchell set the fastest time on Bushwhacker’s opener despite saying he would be taking it steady this weekend after crashing his Rally2 Fiesta on the Galloway Hills Rally one week earlier.

Mitchell pipped O’Brien by half a second on Lough Braden before a rapid response gave O’Brien a six-second lead after Stage 2, Carrickaholten.

A heavy landing on a Stage 3 jump burst Mitchell’s radiator and meant it was another early bath for his Fiesta.

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A solid drive from Niall McCullagh ensured he came home with a top five finish. McCullagh reckoned the rear of his Fiesta was moving about too much which affected his confidence early on in the rally.

Conor McCourt sneaked past Martin Cairns’ Fiesta WRC on a wet final stage to claim seventh with Brendan Cumiskey’s Skoda Fabia the first non-Ford finisher.

Niall Devine ended the day in ninth overall, leading the way in Class 8’s field of Mitsubishi Evos. Derek McGarrity rounded out the top ten in his Skoda. The seasoned rally driver reckoned a slow start cost him a shot at a stronger finish.

Issues for Martynas Samsonas, James Wilson, and Gareth Mimnagh put all three out of a potential rally challenge after the first stage. Mimnagh was forced to stop in the middle of the test while a lack of power from Wilson’s Hyundai i20 R5 cost the Armagh driver over ten seconds on the opener.

David Crossen claimed a comfortable two-wheel-drive win in his Ford Escort Mk2. Frank Kelly fought back over the second half of Bushwhacker stages to steal second in two-wheel-drive from rival Shane McGirr by 0.2 seconds.

McGirr held an 11.4-second advantage over Kelly after three stages but said he didn’t give a “diddly-hoot” where he finished because he enjoyed the rally so much.

Photos by Kevin Glendinning