Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Boland is looking a great bet for glory

You have to turn back the pages of the Tarmac championship history book to find the last driver to win three rounds in a row.

Andrew Nesbitt, 2002, winner of the Circuit of Ireland, Rally of the Lakes and the Jim Clark Rally.

Who would have thought Eamonn Boland would be the next driver to complete the same hat-trick?

Nesbitt, in fact, went on to win the Ulster International and the Cork '20' that year to record a record five victories in a single season, the sequence only interrupted by the cancellation of the Donegal International following a second stage accident.

Strange how history repeats itself with this year's Donegal International foreshortened in similar circumstances although this time a result was declared with Boland a distant fourth at the time. But, like Nesbitt back in 2002, the Wexford veteran took an important step towards the Global Group Tarmac title with his Clark Rally victory, his third in as many rallies.

It had taken him well over a decade to win his first Tarmac international and nearly another five years to win his second. Then he made it three in a row in the space of little more than six weeks.

Boland came from behind in Scotland to snatch an apparent last-gasp victory from the grasp of Tim McNulty in a Subaru S12B one-two finish, adding to his Circuit of Ireland and Rally of the Lakes wins in the past few weeks.

This time Boland only hit the front on the penultimate stage after McNulty had led from the start on Saturday morning. He looked in control and seemed to have his first win of the season sewn up when he built up an advantage of more than 25 seconds.

But Boland hunted McNulty down relentlessly, beating him on all of the second leg's five stages to win by four seconds with the Ford Focus of Gareth MacHale a further 56 seconds back in third.

But Boland's great late charge proved unnecessary for it emerged afterwards that the stewards of the rally had imposed a 15 minute penalty on McNulty for a breach of the servicing rules.

Boland, of course, wasn't to know that as he set off to chase McNulty on the Sunday morning.

He explained: "We made a mess of the first stage on Saturday and were on the back foot after that."

Indeed, Boland was 23 seconds down starting the short final leg but gained enormous encouragement when he closed the gap by seven seconds on the first of the Sunday stages and by another nine on the second. It was game on.

But when McNulty's Subaru stalled twice at hairpins on the third stage of the day, Boland was through into the lead, although less than four seconds separated them with two stages remaining.

But McNulty couldn't raise his game any higher and with virtually identical times over the last two stages, Boland emerged with his first Jim Clark victory by four seconds.

"We were absolutely flat out towards the end," he said afterwards. "It was so close."

Not so close as it turned out, with the penalty for allegedly fitting new tyres on a no-service road section, dropping McNulty back to 11th place and promoting Gareth MacHale to second in his Ford Focus, but almost a minute back from Boland on his first visit to the Scottish borders stages.

"We learned a lot coming here," said MacHale. "The stages are unique and I was happy to finish and get good points - and happy to get fastest time on the last stage where the boys were going flat out, fighting for the win."

Jim Clark Rally: 1 Eamonn Boland and Damien Morrissey (Subaru Impreza) + 2 hr 03 mins 30.1 secs; 2 Gareth MacHale and Brian Murphy (Ford Focus) + 56.9 secs; 3 Mark Higgins and Rory Kennedy (Subaru Impreza N) + 4 mins 26.9 secs; 4 Stuart Jones and Andy Bull (MG S2000) + 6 mins 52.9 secs; 5 David Higgins and Ieuan Thomas (Subaru Impreza N) + 7 mins 34.5 secs; 6 James Wozencroft and Chris Ridge (Subaru Impreza N) + 9 mins 31.0 secs; 7 Jonny Greer and Jonny Hart (Mitsubishi Lancer N) + 9 mins 50.1; 8 Kevin and Martin Kelleher (Mitsubishi Lancer N) + 11 mins 21.4 secs; 9 Wyn Humphreys and Robert Fagg (Subaru Impreza N) + 14 mins 26.6 secs; 10 Adam Gould and Seb Marshall (Renault Clio) +14 mins 56.7 secs.

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