BY MARTIN WALSH
JUST like in many sporting codes, victory can be elusive. In terms of the West Cork Rally that is very much the case for Drimoleague native Frank O’Mahony.
Now residing in Carrigaline and currently chairperson of the Tarmac Rally Organisers Association (TROA), Frank never won the event. There were occasions when he seemed set to win but faltered close to the proverbial finish line. He finished second on many occasions and despite missing out, he never lost his appetite for the event or the region.
Ironically, and on what was his first appearance in a car capable of winning the rally, his son Brian won in Clonakilty in 2013.
One of the most respected competitors in Irish rallying and a former chairperson of the Rallies Committee, Frank took time out with The Southern Star to reflect on the West Cork Rally.
There is a pause when trying to discern as to how many times he competed. A chuckle suggested the number was somewhere around twenty, but neither of us were counting.
‘Sitting down now and thinking about it, it’s hard to understand why victory eluded me in Clonakilty. I had the times, I had the speed and I had the cars but there was always a missing link somewhere.’
Those missing links came to mind far quicker than the number of outings in Clonakilty. The fact that they weren’t in chronological order scarcely mattered.
‘Once, when I was driving a Subaru, I went off the road when I was in the lead and that shouldn’t have happened. It was my own fault. Another year, also in a Subaru, the steering rack went on fire and I lost a couple of minutes but got back to finish second,’ Frank recalls.
Relationships between competitors and spectators can be interesting, the latter line the route to watch their heroes. Obviously, drivers concentrate on the road and the pacenotes from their co-driver. Queried if he could identify people along the stage, Frank retorts: ‘To be fair, not really. If you did (identify and see people) there was something wrong. However, you would have the feeling that the local people were there. Sometimes, coming out of a hairpin you could see the crowd waving and cheering, not just for me, but also for everyone. You had a great bunch of spectators, very enthusiastic, the whole atmosphere in the town and the culture of the rally took off.’
Back in reflective mode, he continued: ‘In 1993 in the Metro 6R4 we (himself and co-driver Hugh McPhillips) were tying with the Metro of John Price after the first day. The pace was very hot but on the first stage on the Sunday morning, the crankshaft broke in Ring village. I did manage to get back and finish second that year.’
Without pausing, the clock turned back to the previous decade.
‘In 1984, I was leading but towards the end of Saturday’s stages I lost over 90 seconds with a puncture. I lost out on second place on a tie-breaker with Kenny McKinstry, yet both of us were only 16 seconds behind rally winner Richie Heeley.’From around 1994 onwards Frank competed in cars that were prepared by the Banbridge-based McKinstry Motorsport outfit.
‘We had a great relationship with Kenny and all of his crew. He had very good cars and there was great camaraderie.’
While rally drivers never retire, Frank took a back seat as his son Brian switched from karting to rallying. As if to illustrate the ironies of the sport, Brian won the West Cork Rally at his first real attempt in 2013.
‘I was delighted for him and for myself. Let’s say it was more sweet than bitter. I didn’t think he would win it first time out in a car that was actually capable of winning the rally.
‘There were a fair few trophies in the house but that West Cork trophy was missing. While my name isn’t on it, the family name is and that’s as near as I could go.’
Combining his driver’s perspective and that of his position within the Tarmac Rally Organisers Association, Frank gave his opinion on the rally, both as a round of the ITRC and the BRC.
‘It’s in its rightful place to be a round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship. It is always a well-run rally. Super stages. I could never say I did the West Cork and came home thinking it was a badly run rally because it wasn’t,’ he says.
‘It is justified as a round of the ITRC and as chairperson of the TROA, I am delighted that it is part of the championship and I think it will stay in it.’
He continued: ‘The fact that it is a round of the BRC adds to it again. When the Motoring News Championship was at its height, it also helped promote the rally across the water. The West Cork Rally will play a big part in the future of the ITRC. It’s already playing a big part in Irish rallying and its unique insofar as it can be classed as a clubman rally and a very professional rally. If the BRC continues in its present format, I can see the West Cork being a permanent part of it. I think the BRC crews will leave Clonakilty very impressed with Clonakilty itself and the way in which the rally is run.’
On what makes the rally so special, Frank’s response is similar to the views of so many others.
‘The whole atmosphere in Clonakilty, it’s different things for different people obviously. It’s a good clubman rally. Very well supported from overseas, particularly when it was part of the Motoring News Championship.’
Incidentally, that series also eluded Frank although his co-driver Hugh McPhillips actually won the co-drivers’ title. Concluding, his thoughts on the rally: ‘There was always something about it, on St Patrick’s weekend, and Clonakilty is just a nice spot anyway.’
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