Stephen Wright wrapped up the 2010 Kick Energy Fiesta SportTrophy Ireland (FST IE) championship with two rounds to spare last weekend on the Donegal International Rally. Wright, 20 from Monaghan, and co-driver Paul McGee only needed a second place finish to put the title out of reach of closest challenger Dara Leonard. They duly delivered with a measured drive to do just enough to claim their maiden championship victory. The Letterkenny based event was won by 28-year-old Stephen Baxter, who claimed not only claimed his debut victory but also the first win for the Fiesta R2 in the FST Ireland championship.
Baxter made a flying start to the event, winning the opening test by 19 seconds ahead of Wright. Partnering Baxter was the experienced Martin Brady who had recently joined Baxter in the co-drivers seat. The pair had clearly gelled well together having won their class on Cavan Stages rally a few weeks earlier and making an impressive start to this event. Having suffered a roll two weeks previously on the Modern Tyre Services Newry Rally, Stephen Wright’s DGM mechanics had had a race against time to get the car ready for the Letterkenny based event. Wright made a steady start to the event to avoid a repeat of his Newry ‘off’ and ruin his title aspirations. 18-year-old Dara Leonard was third on opening test of his home event. Leonard, from Omagh, and co-driver Vinnie Boyd were making a welcome return to the series having been forced to skip the previous round of the championship. Leonard was less than five seconds behind Wright but knew he had to win to keep his title hopes alive. FST IE welcomed a new addition to the field in Letterkenny, Niamh Neville making her championship debut in her ex Mark Donnelly Ford Fiesta ST. The 24-year-old from Wexford is latest of the Neville clan to take up rallying, alongside brother Anthony and father Pat.
Baxter was once again fastest through Stage 2, extending his lead over Wright by a further 28 seconds. Baxter was the only FST IE competitor to break the twelve-minute mark over the 19-kilometre stage. Wright was doing exactly what he needed to in order to claim the championship victory again posting the second fastest stage time just over two seconds quicker than Leonard. Neville and co-driver Andy Hayes were making steady progress in only their second event in the Fiesta ST and posted the fourth fastest time.
As the crews returned to service for first time, Baxter was pleased with the mixture of pace and consistency he had found with Brady alongside to lead the event. In second, 47 seconds behind Baxter, Wright was happy with his pace, not wanting push too hard with one hand already on the championship. Leonard had survived an early encounter with a wire fence to lie third just seven seconds behind Wright. Newcomer Neville was enjoying her FST debut and was looking to improve on her times from the morning on the second loop of stages.
SS3 was due to be a repeat of the days opening test, however problems with spectators meant the stage had to be cancelled leaving competitors just a repeat of SS2 before returning to service. Baxter improved on his earlier time by just over five seconds to post his third fastest stage time of the event. Wright was once again second also improving on his earlier time by five seconds to further cement his second place overall. Leonard finished the stage just one and quarter seconds behind Wright to trail him by eight and a half seconds heading into second service. Neville made the biggest improvement over the 19-kilometre stage. She shaved 20 seconds off of her previous effort as she continued to grow ever more confident with her Fiesta ST.
The event was halted during SS11 of the International event. A competing car left the road and crashed heavily. The results were declared as they stood at the end of SS4, SS10 of the International event. This meant that Stephen Baxter and Martin Brady claimed their first win of the season in their Ford Fiesta R2. Stephen Wright and Paul McGee finished second to claim the 2010 Kick Energy Fiesta SportTrophy Ireland championship victory with two rounds still remaining. Dara Leonard and Vinnie Boyd were third less than nine seconds behind Wright. Neville and Andy Hayes finished their FST Ireland debut in fourth.
The inaugural Muc-Off best presented car award was presented to Stephen Wright, the late nights endured by the DGM mechanics after his crash in Newry clearly paid off as his car was voted best prepared prior to the start of the event.
The Fiesta SportTrophy Ireland organisers would like to extend their condolences to the family and friends of Thomas Maguire, who was tragically killed in the accident on SS10 of the Donegal International Rally.