Belfast Telegraph

Circuit of Ireland: Amy Cox has drive to be top rally ace

By Sammy Hamill

The test on the mind of most 17-year-old drivers is their driving test.

But Amy Cox is preparing for a much sterner test of her driving skills — the Circuit of Ireland Rally.

The Tyrone teenager, still a student at Sacred Heart College in Omagh, will be the youngest competitor when Ireland’s most famous rally rolls out of Armagh on Saturday.

But she is far from daunted by the prospect even though it will be her first time on an event which features closed public roads.

“I’m looking forward to it; I can’t wait to get started,” enthuses Amy who has been driving since she was 11 and first started competing at 13. My dad Damien used to rally so there were always cars around and I drove them around the yard.

“And from I was about 12 I was always on at him to build me a rally car. Eventually he built me a wee Vauxhall Corsa and I started competing in the Alltrack junior events when I was 13.

“I’ve been doing it ever since but it was only when I turned 17 and passed my driving test last year that I was able to move up to proper rallies.”

By then Amy had created her own piece of history — the first driver, male or female, to win the Irish Rallysport Association junior championship three years in a row. But the little 1200cc Corsa has gone now to be replaced by her cousin Adrian Donnelly’s Ford Escort G3, a completely different car with a much more powerful two-litre engine, sequential gearbox and rear-wheel-drive.

“Adrian has been really good and he’s letting me drive the car on any events I want this year to get experience,” she says.

“It is a big step up from the Corsa and I’m still getting used to it but it’s great — I love it.” However, the transition to senior rallying has not gone entirely smoothly for Amy.

She passed her driving test two days after turning 17 last September — just in time to make her debut on the Northern Ireland championship Bushwhacker Rally in the Tyrone forests.

But an electrical glitch sidelined the Escort after just one stage.

However, it was on the Spring Rally, based at Fivemiletown in February, that Amy showed she could mix it with the men.

From a start number of 53 she finished 21st overall, surrounded by a host of highly experienced and competitive drivers in a field that included two of Ulster’s brightest young stars, Alastair Fisher and Mark Donnelly.

But there was more disappointment around the corner. On YouTube you can watch Amy crashing into a tyre barrier in round two of the NI championship at Bishopscourt.

“The irony is that the driver who hit me was a friend of mine, Dara Leonard,” she added. “I’m sure he didn’t mean it!”

Amy and co-driver Emmet Sherry start the Donnelly Group sponsored rally at No.74. Look out for her bright yellow Escort — she’s one to watch for the future.

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