Baxter’s Bonus at Circuit

Stephen Baxter took the first Fiesta Sport Trophy Ireland win of the year on the Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland Rally. The Saturday stages of the Circuit of Ireland were a counting round of both the Fiesta Sporting Trophy Ireland and the Hankook MSA NI Rally Championship and a good turnout of ST and R2 Fiesta’s joined the 99 crews in sunny Armagh City during the Easter weekend.

The five Fiestas’ were seeded in a group within the main field and a fierce battle was expected among the Irish young guns. Ten closed road stages were planned for the crews with just over 60 stage miles with the winner due back in Armagh on Saturday evening around 9 pm.

Leading the FST crews away, with number 64 on the door, was 2010 NI 2wd Group N Champions Jonny Leonard and Jackie Elliot. The Fermanagh ST crew had enjoyed a fantastic season in 2010, not only winning their class but they also scooped the Hankook Junior prize drive; an expenses paid drive in a R2 Fiesta on the 2011 Ypres Rally in June. They arrived in Armagh on the back of one class win already this year and one retirement so they hoped for some better luck on this one.

Seeded at number 65 was the Fiesta R2 of Stephen Baxter and Daragh Mullan. They were another Fermanagh pairing who were enjoying local success of late. Their first run out this year brought a class win at Kirkistown and a consistent run at Bishopscourt saw them in a strong position in the Hankook sponsored series.

At 66 & 67 were the Leonard brothers, Dara and Declan in a pair of Fiesta ST’s. The Omagh team proving that they are on the class winning pace in only their first NIRC season, with Dara holding the slight advantage over his sibling at this point in the season.

Starting at 68 was the local crew of Philip Ewart and Scott McMahon and with some of the stages right on their doorstep they were hoping to have a slight advantage on the rest of the Fiesta contingent.

Stage 1, the Hollow, was just a short drive from the start ramp in Armagh City and it was Declan Leonard who topped the FST timesheets, just 0.9 seconds faster than his brother Dara at the end of the opening 9.01 miles of the rally. Next up was Stephen Baxter, the R2 driver making a slow start as he got used to the first closed road event of the year.

In early trouble was Philip Ewart and Scott McMahon, their local knowledge proving to be of no advantage when they broke a driveshaft on a square left around three quarters of the way through the first stage. They were able to crawl to the end of the test but retired shortly afterwards. Jonny Leonard, no relation to the aforementioned Leonard brothers, was also having a poor start to the event. He also encountered driveshaft maladies and was forced to nurse the ST through the first trio of stages before the problem could be rectified.

Stage 2 took the crews deep into the famous Orchard County of Armagh. The seven mile test just north of the village of Loughgall provided the setting and this time it was Dara Leonard who headed the FST Ireland times, but it was Stephen Baxter in the R2 that was his nearest pursuer, posting a time just 0.9 seconds slower with Declan Leonard some 10.7 seconds further back.

The third stage brought the crews south of Armagh City, but with a blockage on the stage, all the FST crews received an equal time and as they arrived back to the service park, it was Dara Leonard who held the advantage by just 10.9 seconds from his brother Declan with Stephen Baxter some 40 seconds behind after that slow time on SS1. Jonny Leonard made it back to service but was now suffering from an oil leak on to the clutch which was to hamper any ideas he had of trying to challenge the leading pack.

Stage four was the repeat of SS1 from earlier in the day and Stephen Baxter made up for his poor time earlier on by slicing 52 seconds off his previous time, and as a consequence he reduced the gap between himself and the Leonard brothers to just under over 15 seconds.

Dara’s 10.9 second lead at first service now turned into a 2 second deficit after stage four and on stage five Baxter grabbed the FST lead by 5 seconds after blitzing both ST crews through the repeated Loughgall stage.

The rally now moved on to the ‘Power Stage’ in Lisburn City Centre and the rally crews thrilled an estimated 15,000 spectators, plus the countless thousands who followed the live footage online, around two runs of the 0.64 mile test. Baxter again showed the R2 at its best, stopping the clocks on his first run at 1:01.6 and then improving slightly on the second pass with a 59.9. The ST mounted crews all posted comparable times on their first attempt with Declan, Dara and Jonny all on 1:03.0 and 1:01’s on the repeat visit.

At this point in the event Stephen Baxter was lying 29th overall with Declan and Dara Leonard in 31st and 33rd overall respectively. As the rally turned back towards Armagh, three more stages lay between the remaining crews and the finish ramp.

Through stages eight and nine around Banbridge, the overall positions remained static. Baxter again heading the timesheets with Dara beating Declan through eight and then Declan returned the favour on nine. As the crews approached Armagh for the final blast word filtered through that the final stage was blocked by an earlier accident so Baxter returned to the Armagh City Hotel with maximum points on the first Fiesta Sport Trophy Ireland event of the year.

Provisional Results – Fiesta Sporting Trophy Ireland after Round 1:
1. Stephen Baxter/Daragh Mullan – Fiesta R2 – 1:09:31.6 – (12 points)
2. Declan Leonard/Dermot McCafferty – Fiesta ST – 1:10:01.9 (10 points)
3. Dara Leonard/Paddy Robinson – Fiesta ST – 1:10:17.9 (9 points)
4. Jonny Leonard/Jackie Elliot – Fiesta ST – Retired SS8
5. Philip Ewart/Scott McMahon – Fiesta ST – Retired SS1

The next round of the Fiesta Sporting Trophy Ireland will be the C Bradley Motorsport Tour of the Sperrins on Saturday 7th May.

Go Motorsport

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