Draperstown to Versailles is quite a jump. As is driving a venerable Ford Escort on historic rallies to rubbing shoulders with Citroen World rally championship stars Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo in the sumptuous suburbs of Paris.
But victory in the Irish Citroen C2-R2 Cup has earned 22-year-old Marty McCormack a two-day test session alongside Loeb, Sordo and Junior World champion-elect Sebastien Ogier at Citroen Sport’s headquarters. But it is a prize that looked beyond his reach when he first set out on the series at the beginning of the season.
McCormack had taken an unusual route into rallying, driving a Mark Two Ford Escort on historic rallies which are usually the preserve of more “mature” competitors. But he performed brilliantly, battling with seven-times Circuit of Ireland winner Jimmy McRae for the British title.
And it was McRae, perhaps hoping this young upstart would leave historic rallying to his elders, who encouraged him to move into the mainstream.
“It was Jimmy and a few others who encouraged me to move on to modern cars,” explains McCormack, “but the difficulty was choosing which way to go.
“Eventually we chose the Irish and British C2-R2 Cups because I’d seen Niall McShea and Kris Meeke driving these little Citroens and they looked far more exciting than, say, a Group N Mitsubishi.
“Kris told me if I could drive one of these cars quickly I could drive anything. But it turned out to be a steep learning curve. I was going front a rear-wheel-drive Escort to front-wheel-drive and the Citroen was left-hand-drive as well! And we had no experience of preparing one of these cars.
“We certainly struggled to begin with, both with the car and my driving, and after the first few rounds I never expected I would end up champion.”
But it all came good on the double-header rounds on the Ulster and Wexford rallies. McCormack finished with a flourish, taking his Outdoor Services-sponsored Citroen to second and first in Ulster – he would have won both rounds but for a puncture – and then first and second in Wexford last weekend.
“I knew I just had to finish on the second day in Wexford to make sure of the championship so I tried to be sensible, not take too many chances,” he said. “I still thought I would win when I had a three-second lead going into the last stage but Adrian McElhinney went very hard and took it off me by a second.
“Still, the championship was the important thing and now I have the trip to Paris to look forward to. We will be testing the new C2-R2 Max and I know Sordo and
Ogier will be there - and they are hoping Sebastien Loeb will be able to make it too.”
As a bonus, McCormack has an outside chance of winning the British Cup as well despite losing maximum points in a bizarre incident on the Ulster Rally.
With the British championship sponsored by Tesco 99 Octane petrol that’s the fuel competitors must use. However, with McCormack also contesting the Irish series he continued to use his regular fuel supplier, running foul of the rules.
“It was a silly mistake but the British championship people accepted it was a genuine error and that I gained no advantage.
“They took away half my points, which was fair enough, but it leaves me in fourth place and I’m going to have to miss the next round,” he explained.
The reason he is opting out of this month’s Rally Yorkshire is that is clashes with the McRae Stages, a rally which will overshadow all else as many of the greatest names in the world including World champions Hannu Mikkola, Ari Vatanen and Carlos Sainz head to Scotland to pay homage to Colin McRae who died in a helicopter crash a year ago.