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Stafford’s prepare for 2006 championship assault

Posted: February 22, 2006 8:40 PM - 5566 Hits

As the 2006 rallying season swings into action, many crews are making plans for the year ahead. One crew with very big plans for 2006 however, are the Stafford cousins from Wellington Bridge, James M and James F Stafford who are set to tackle the Dunlop National rally championship.

Photo: Robert O'Mahony

Posted: February 22, 2006 8:40 PM

The cousin’s, well known for their exploits in the Niall Whitty motorsport run 1600 Nova, are moving up to the big league for 2006, when they will pilot a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8 prepared and run by Derek Jobb motorsport preparations, on the ten round championship that consists of events from Sligo to Kerry and Galway to Carlow.

But as James explains, coming towards the end of 2005, neither of them had any intention of taking on the Group N championship in 2006. “We had intended on doing Baltinglass in the Nova, but the parts we were waiting on for the gearbox didn’t arrive in time. We really wanted to do the event but time was running out so we looked around at what cars were available to hire for the weekend.” And their choice for the weekend was a Mitsubishi Lancer, backed by Pat Neville and sons and Power’s of Ballycullane. “The Lancer seemed to be a very good car and Derek put a deal together for us at very short notice.”

Without any testing, the boys set the pace right from the off, in a car still unknown to them. They led until the final stage when an uncharacteristic off put them out of the event. But the event had wetted their appetite. “ We were amazed by the car, it was completely different than anything we had driven before. The handing, the braking, the acceleration, it was all on a different level. We spoke to Derek about the possibility about getting a deal together and that’s where it all started.”

Over the winter period, the cousins taught long and hard about the possibility of putting a package together to compete in the National championship. It was a huge undertaking for an ordinary clubman like James, who, like most rally men around, was used to picking and choosing his events around work commitments and when the funds were available. “As everyone knows, rallying is an expensive sport, and it just would not be possible to do it without the help of our sponsors. Myself and James have been very lucky in that we have had some very loyal sponsors over the years, such as Boland’s of Waterford, Pat Roche Plant Hire, Ollie McPhilips plumbing and heating, Lorraine and Norman’s tasty takeaway, Pat Culleton Crane Hire and many more who without, we wouldn’t even be able to contemplate tackling the 2006 National championship.”

The first round of the National championship is in Mayo on the 5th of March, where James will learn exactly how tough a challenge they will be facing for the coming year. However, the cousins are going to get some match practice in ahead of the opening rounds by tackling the Birr stages this coming Sunday. The event will be seen as a shake down by many for the up and coming championship, and last years winner and current national champion Ray Breen will be seeded at no.1.

The two James’s, who are seeded at 17, will use the event purely to settle into the car the will use on the championship and gauge what the pace is going to be like for the season ahead. The Lancer, backed by Pat Neville and sons, Jimmy Cullen digger hire and Michael Rossitor construction among others will be up against the some of the most advanced group N machinery in the country, and James is well aware what he’s up against. “ Some of these lads were running in the top 4 or 5 overall on events last year, they were at a serious pace all the way through the year. Were still talking to a few perspective sponsors but we have the deals in place for the year. After getting a taste of the car last year, we knew we’d have to try and get some sort of package together and that’s what we’ve done. We’re 100% committed to the year and were going to give it our very best shot.”

It’s a massive undertaking for a regular clubman and although the sights and sounds of the screaming little Nova will be missed out on the stages, I’m sure spectators will be very intrigued at the performance of the cousins on the National scene.

The Stafford cousins would once again like to thank their previous and current sponsors, Power’s of Ballycullane, Pat Neville and sons, Boland’s of Waterford, Niall Whitty motorsport services, Pat Roche Plant hire, Ruth Motorsport, Lorraine and Norman’s tasty takeaway, CK Performance engines, Michael Rossitor Construction, James Waters Plastering contractor, Shane Purcell plastering contractor, Pat Culleton Crane hire, Bob O’ Shea Car Sales, Michael Murphy building, Ollie McPhilips plumbing and heating, Sheamie Ryan carpentry, Jimmy Cullen digger hire, Frances Stafford Agri contractor, Michael Murphy plumbing and heating, Gary Sinnott Construction and Glenmore crash repairs.

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