Guinness rather than Champagne was the order of the day after a trio of Irishmen filled the top three steps on the podium at the end of the Kelso-based Jim Clark International Rally.
The annual Borders event, the only rally to be held on closed-off public Tarmac roads on mainland Britain, is a counter in both the Irish Tarmac Championship and the British Rally Championship (BRC).
So it was no surprise the Irish tarmac specialists dominated the event and thrilled the huge crowds who lined the narrow country roads with a dazzling display of white knuckle, but controlled driving.
After two days, 17 stages and 150 miles of intense, high speed action, Eamonn Boland pipped longtime leader Tim McNulty by just four seconds.
McNulty, driving his Subaru Impreza WRC, started today’s final five stages having dominated events on Saturday and established a 20.3-second lead over Boland. But he was left ruing a slow start as Boland hunted him down in his Impreza.
“We didn’t push hard enough in the opening two stages today,” McNulty admitted afterwards. “That gave the momentum to Eamonn and he capitalised on it.”
McNulty though contributed to his own downfall. Twice in stages 14 and 15, the 12-milers at Eccles and Leitholm, McNulty stalled his car at hairpins.
Even in the last stage, the second time through Leitholm which he started just 3.8s behind Boland, he dropped time when his car cut out twice. The winner though was ecstatic.
“We were absolutely flat out at the end,” the Irish Subaru ace admitted. “I knew Tim would throw everything at us in the last stage. We couldn’t afford to back off.
“We were always playing catch-up after I dropped 17-seconds to Tim on Saturday’s opening stage, but we kept plugging away.”
Despite Dublin’s Machale finishing third in his Ford Focus WRC, 52.9s behind McNulty, because none of the Irish drivers were registered for the BRC, maximum points in the title race went to Welsh-based Manxman Mark Higgins.
“It was a close call because we had problems at the end with the handbrake lever coming out,” Higgins, who won the 2005 Jim Clark and was making his debut in the TEG Sport 2006-spec Subaru Impreza, said after finishing fourth overall.
“Plus the car was making a hellish noise when it was in the air over the jumps. I was sure something was gone and I wasn’t going to make it.”
In the County Saab Scottish Rally Championship section of the Jim Clark, Birtley’s Andy Fenwick powered his Skoda Octavia WRC to victory, 75.7s ahead of the two-wheel-drive Mk1 Ford Escort driven by Malton’s Steve Bannister. Championship leader Jimmy Girvan was fourth in his Subaru.