Stafford wins in style
Clonmines team claim victory by 16 seconds
THE Riverbank House Hotel Dick Bailey stages rally has wanted a good competitive battle for a few years now, and this year the competitors have provided a battle royal that will be remembered for quite a few years writes John Dier.
Not many people would have thought when the cars left the rally HQ that fans would be on the edge of their seats, or should we make that ditches, for the whole weekend. A rally that becomes a procession can be very off putting for rally fans and the rest of the competitors alike.
This rally put that scenario firmly to bed. In the first three stages, we had three different leaders, our top two finishers, and Jamie Belton. To local rally fans, James Stafford was one of those names on the leader board.
There was no quarter given by any of the three yesterday and it was almost unbelievable when there was a dead heat overnight between Belton and Cole overnight, with Stafford 8 seconds back in third. Stafford was surely thinking only for a spin on stage 4 and a stall on stage 6, he could have been level, or maybe ahead of the two WRC cars in front of him.
Day 2 saw two defining moments of the rally. Stafford turned 8 seconds of a deficit into a 7 second advantage over the first loop and Jamie Belton departing the scene due to a coming together with a ditch on stage 9.
Over the second loop, Stafford cemented his lead in weather that a lot of hardened fans thought would suit Cole's Focus better, by increasing it to 30 seconds. There was a look of resignation starting to appear on Cole's face and James Stafford was starting to believe that the rally was his for the taking, just a matter of driving hard over the last two stages, but just a little less hard than usual, maybe 105% instead of 110%.
Cole did manage to take 14 seconds out of Stafford, but for the first time in the whole weekend, rally fans were starting to realise who was going to win. As Stafford said afterwards, a little prayer was said before the last stage and the Darrian arrived back to a massive welcome, and a small, or maybe a large, amount of champagne. Many will say it was the crews at the top were responsible for such a rally, but in truth, the whole field, every fan on the ditch, and of course the organisers, have made this one of the best rallies in the country this year, and last year, and the year before.