Sky Sports News’ F1 analyst Tony Jardine and BBC Radio 5 Live’s Maurice Hamilton succeeded in finishing the 2012 Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland Rally (6-7 April), a prestigious road rally based in and around Armagh in Northern Ireland. Competing against world-class rally stars in the third round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC), Jardine and Hamilton finished 23rd overall with support from ProSpeed – an impressive result for the media duo among a field of elite rally drivers.
The IRC is a fiercely fought series and the Irish tarmac stages are renowned for being narrow, fast and slippery. Despite a couple of minor incidents along the rally route, the MIS Motorsport backed and Kumho-shod Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX - owned by Northern Ireland’s Raymond Mason - remained reliable and trustworthy in the hands of driver Jardine.
There are very few sports where amateurs are able to mix it with the best in the world, thus making the media duo’s placing in the Circuit of Ireland Rally no easy feat. For Hamilton, this was also his second successful rallying endeavour on home soil co-driving for Jardine, the voice of Radio 5 Live being originally from Bangor.With a total of 15 stages, the rally actually started in Belfast City Centre and featured a celebratory Super Special Stage at the Titanic Quarter on Friday afternoon (SS1) which pulled in the crowds by the Belfast docks. It has been over 100 years since the Titanic left Belfast for its maiden and only voyage, this heritage being commemorated by one of the oldest rallies in the world, a century on.
Jardine and Hamilton have previously claimed numerous class wins and podium places together on national rallies, along with other notable finishes including 28th overall on the 2008 Topaz Donegal Rally in a Skoda WRC car, and 35th overall and first in class on the 2002 Network Q Rally of Great Britain in an MG ZR.
Jardine was delighted with their result, and said, “I was really wired before the rally and raring to go, so to have now finished 23rd overall is a great feeling. Unfortunately I made a few small mistakes along the way – like sliding into a bank at a hairpin and going off through a farm gate, all on the sixth stage!
“We were definitely at our best on stage eight [Hollow 1], and I think Maurice would agree with me, as we were just going so well through there. Thanks to Maurice for his commitment as always, and to our ProSpeed team for getting me across the finish line and keeping me in the rally even when I break the intercooler pipes!”Hamilton said, “Not having competed for 18 months, it took me until Saturday to really get my head back into gear in the car. We were lucky with the weather, we had some great stages to contend with, and all the hard work we did with the pacenotes really paid off.
“This rally mainly consists of stages held on closed public roads, which throws up totally different challenges to sweeping forest stages – obstacles such as telegraph poles, gate posts, grassy banks and narrow bridges. It is more stop go than when competing on a forest stage, and is physically very tough.”
Skoda dominated in Armagh with Juho Hänninen winning the rally 44.2 seconds ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen, as Jan Kopecký took third. Mikkelsen continues to lead the championship with 61 points, ahead of Hänninen on 43 and Kopecký on 40.