Wright Wins Round One of FST Ireland 2010

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Quality not quantity was the order of the day at the first round of the 2010 Fiesta SportTrophy Ireland championship.  The Safety Direct Galway International Rally (6 February 2010) saw four Fiesta crews competing over the nine stages, totalling 136stage km, used on day one of the full international rally.  Three stages made up day one with each stage visited on three occasions.  Of the four FST entries all but one would score a stage victory in what proved to be a closely fought contest.

Mist and fog greeted the crews in service on Saturday morning, but as they headed off to the first stage reports indicated that it was already starting to lift away from the service park.  The first stage took crews to the 17km Bellville stage situated close to the town of Monivéa.  It was Stephen Wright and co-driver Paul McGee, the highest seeded returning crew from 2009, who took the first stage victory of FST 2010. The pair put their previous FST experience to good use to conquer the tricky conditions and come out almost eight seconds clear of newcomers Dara Leonard and Vinnie Boyd.  Stephen Baxter and co-driver Karl Atkinson, driving the new Fiesta R2 put in a steady run to make it through the first stage a further seven seconds behind Leonard.  With limited running in new the car prior to the event, Baxter’s aim was to stay on the road and get more closely acquainted with the R2.  FST 2009 returnees Desi Henry and John Rowan were also having a steady run through the first stage. Having not been in the car since the final round of 2009, Desi admitted to being a bit rusty prior to the start of the event.

Stage two, Windfield, also went the way of Wright but it was the Fiesta R2 of Baxter who proved to be his closer challenger over the 13km stage, just seven seconds behind the Galway University student.  Desi Henry posted the third fastest time of the stage, having dusted off some of the cobwebs in the first stage. Dara Leonard posted was fourth fastest, just 1.5 seconds behind Henry but dropping him behind Baxter.

First and second seeded Fiesta drivers Stephen Wright and Dara Leonard were held up by a recovering car in the 14km Colmanstown stage and were therefore granted a nominal time by the stewards. This allowed Stephen Baxter, who benefited from a clear run to post the first FST Ireland stage victory for the R2.  Baxter closed the gap to leader Wright from 22 seconds to under 20 seconds.  Desi Henry had problems of his own, a spin in the stage losing him around 20 seconds and keeping him in fourth place.

As the crews returned for the first service Stephen Wright held the FST lead from newcomers Stephen Baxter and Dara Leonard with Desi Henry ready to pick up the pieces should any of the leaders slip up. All four were happy to still be running and reported the stages to be treacherous in the damp conditions.  Of the 110 crews that started the event, 20 failed to make it through the first loop.
Stage four saw the two FST debutants come into their own. County Fermanagh man, Stephen Baxter put in a blistering time of nine minutes 47.9seconds to close the gap to leader Wright to just 6.5 seconds. Seventeen year old, Dara Leonard also continued to impress posting the second fastest time just two seconds shy of Baxter’s pace.  Desi Henry posted the fourth fastest time, just over three seconds behind FST leader Wright.

A third consecutive stage victory, in stage five, for R2 driver Stephen Baxter and co-driver Karl Atkinson saw them leap frog Stephen Wright and co-driver Paul McGee at the end of stage five. However with a slender, two second, lead and little over 16 seconds to third placed Dara Leonard and co-driver Vinnie Boyd, Baxter couldn’t afford to relax as the first round of FST Ireland passed the half way point.  Desi Henry still struggled to match the pace he had shown in 2009 with the tricky conditions and a lack of seat time slowing his progress.

The Galway International Rally stages are renowned for punishing the cars and their drivers, and the 2010 edition was no exception. After three consecutive stage victories, in a new car, Stephen Baxter’s charge ended in retirement on the road section after stage six. Baxter clipped a bank during the stage, damaging the front left suspension and steering. Despite the best efforts of the crew, they were unable to return to service for the necessary repairs and were forced to retire.  Young charger Dara Leonard also encountered problems on stage six, thanks to a broken driveshaft, but such is the strength of the transmission, he still managed to complete the stage but dropped some 30seconds to rally leader Wright. All the drama behind, left they way clear for Stephen Wright to complete his own hat-trick of stage victories and pull out a 45second lead over new second place man Dara Leonard.

At the final service of the day Stephen Wright and Paul McGee still held the FST rally lead from Dara Leonard and Vinnie Boyd with Desi Henry and co-driver John Rowan promoted to third after Stephen Baxter’s retirement.  A new drive shaft was fitted to Leonard’s car in service allowing him to continue into the final loop of stages.   Wright was a picture of composure during service, and with a 45second lead knew all he had to do was keep a steady pace and not make any mistakes in the final three stages of the event to claim victory.

Dara Leonard took a debut stage victory on stage seven, putting the previous stage’s drama behind him to claim a narrow 1.3second victory from rally leader Wright.  After giving the car a full check over, Henry opted to treat the final loop of stages as a test to try and improve the feeling he had with the car ahead of round two of the championship.

Stephen Wright and Paul McGee cruised to victory in the final two stages; their fourth and fifth fastest stage times of the day, to take the rally win by over 50seconds from Dara Leonard and Vinnie Boyd. Leonard put in a mature drive through stages eight and nine to finish the rally and claim second place in his first FST Ireland outing.  As the third and final FST finisher, Desi Henry completed the podium after what had proved a challenging day.  All three finishers were in the prize money – effectively winning their entry fee back.

Following his success, Stephen Wright was the only FST competitor to continue onto the second day and complete the full international event. He held up FST honours with 19th overall and 7th 2wd car.

Event Winner Stephen Wright said:
“It’s great to finally get my first fiesta win under my belt, the car never missed a beat all weekend, the Pirelli tyres performed brilliantly in the treacherous conditions and Paul did a top job on the notes. I was fortunate that Stephen and Dara had problems on the 6th stage as I’m sure it would have been a close race. Hopefully we can carry this form into round 2 and come away with another good points haul.”

Crew-by-Crew Report
Crew
Details
Result
Stephen Wright/Paul McGee
Five fastest stage times and no problems meant Wright cruised to a comfortable 50second victory. Didn’t have it all his own way however as Newcomers Stephen Baxter and Dara Leonard ran him close before encountering problems.

FST – 1st

Dara Leonard/Vinnie Boyd
17 year-old Dara Leonard showed maturity beyond his years with a steady run to second in his first FST event.  His co-driving experience from 2009 held him in good stead and he managed to set the fastest time through stage seven.  Would have been closer to winner Wright had he not suffered a broken driveshaft on stage six.

FST – 2nd

Desi Henry/John Rowan
After the dramas of 2009, Desi was pleased to make the finish of the first event in 2010.  However he had hoped to give rally winner Stephen Wright a run for his money and will be looking to improve the performance of his car’s engine ahead of round two.

FST – 3rd
Stephen Baxter/Karl Atkinson
Fiesta R2 debutant Stephen Baxter had looked most likely to challenge Wright for victory in the early stages. A hat trick of fastest stage times saw him take a two second lead going into stage six.  However a brush with the Galway countryside meant his charge ended in retirement before the second service.  Stephen will hope to resume where he left off on the Circuit of Ireland and begin his championship charge there.

DNF

Galway International Rally FST Final Standings

Position
Driver/Co-Driver
Time
Diff. to First
Prize Money
1
Stephen Wright/Paul McGee
1hr 24min 08.9sec

€750
2
Dara Leonard/Vinnie Boyd
1hr 25min 05.5sec
56.6sec
€600
3
Desi Henry/John Rowan
1hr 27min 11.0sec
3min 2.1sec
€450
DNF
Stephen Baxter/Karl Atkinson

2010 Championship Standings after Round One

Position
Driver/Co-Driver
Points
1
Stephen Wright/Paul McGee
30
2
Dara Leonard/Vinnie Boyd
25
3
Desi Henry/John Rowan
22