Carrigaline driver Brian O’Mahony deserves a place with Cork rally greats

Carrigaline driver Brian O’Mahony deserves a place with Cork rally greats
Brian O'Mahony/John Higgins on their debut in a Subaru WRC on the 2011 Cork 20 International Rally. Although they led initially, transmision and suspension problems forced them out. Picture: Martin Walsh.

SINCE its inception in 1978 just three Cork drivers have won the Irish National Rally Championship.

Its most recent winner (2012) is Carrigaline’s Brian O’Mahony, who won the title at the Donegal Harvest Rally some six days shy of his 28th birthday.

Brian O’Mahony with his wife Katrina after he clinched the 2012 Dunlop National Rally Championship at the Donegal Harvest Rally. Picture: Martin Walsh.
Brian O’Mahony with his wife Katrina after he clinched the 2012 Dunlop National Rally Championship at the Donegal Harvest Rally. Picture: Martin Walsh.

Indeed, many of his moments are linked to his birthday, he was less than two weeks old when he was at his first rally, the Fastnet Rally in 1984 that was won by Banbridge driver Kenny McKinstry (Ford Escort), who actually oversaw Brian’s Dunlop National Rally success. Brian made his rally debut on that same Fastnet Rally, albeit in 2003, at the wheel of a Ford Ka.

Similar to night following day, Brian was destined to take up rallying, as his father Frank is a very well known competitor, organiser and official.

In many respects while their chosen paths are similar, the end results were not in the vein of — like father, like son. For instance, Frank narrowly lost out to Kenny Colbert in the chase for the 1988 national series to bridge the gap to Cork duo Mick O’Connell (1978) and Ger Buckley (1979 and 1980).

At his peak and for years Frank tried to win the West Cork Rally in Clonakilty and while he led on several occasions, he never attained the Holy Grail unlike Brian, who at his very first attempt in a car capable of victory, did the business in 2013 — Brian’s last event as a driver.

But, back to the beginning.

“It was a question of when more than anything else, most of my childhood memories involved motorsport. I did the last four karting events in 1998 and in 1999 I finished second in the Junior Rookies National Championship to Owen Murphy. It was a few days after when we discovered that the ceramic part of the plug was cracked for the final.”

Brian went on to compete in JICA and Formula A until rallying beckoned in October 2003.

He laughs, “I think I was about second last, Hughie McPhillips (who was Frank’s regular co-driver) was drafted in (I reckon) to slow me up and make sure I finished.”

After about seven different co-drivers that included his sister Emily, Kiltimagh’s John Higgins became his regular co-driver after their first outing in the Birr Rally. In 2004 they finished third in the Ford Ka Championship with a car run by Johnny O’Leary.

Brian’s one-off participation in the Jim Clark Rally in Scotland in a Ford Puma came on the back of a “deal” with his father Frank.

“I was meant to be competing in the Junior category of the Rally of the Lakes but that clashed with my college examinations and instead I ended up driving a Chris Birkbeck Ford Puma in Scotland.”

For the ‘05 and ‘06 seasons Brian continued with the Ford Puma winning the S1600 series and the British Junior Championship in the process. He also availed of tests with Suzuki and M-Sport but opted to remain with the Birkbeck operation.

All the time his admiration of the Metro 6R4 (being campaigned by his father Frank) was increasing and another deal was brokered — as soon as he won his class at an International event, he could drive the Metro. It came to fruition (2003) but the outing ended prematurely due to engine woes.

Meanwhile, a series of non-finishes in the Puma brought Brian to the point where he contemplated stepping away from the sport. However, an email provoked a hitherto dormant association with a particular S1600 Renault Clio.

“The step up to the Clio on tarmac was unreal, Johnny O’Leary was running the car and we also had input from an ex-Renault engineer.”

Performances and results were impressive and there were outings in the World Rally Championship rounds in Finland and Germany. Finland didn’t go too well. “The guy before us blew a diff and deposited oil on the apex of a fast corner that had a stone wall on the outside.” The wall won.

In Germany, they also had issues but towards the end were setting third fastest times in the S1600 class, impressive considering the others were Kris Meeke and one Sebastien Ogier.

In 2008 Brian won the British Junior Championship for a second time and at one point was also in with a shout for the overall series.

Brian stepped up in status in 2011, marrying his sweetheart Katrina (Murphy), and two outings in a McKinstry Motorsport run Subaru WRC.

He landed the Dunlop National Rally Championship in 2012, the only blemish was the non-finish in Mayo (fire) that was followed with wins in Carlow, Tipperary and Clare before the title clincher in Donegal town ahead of Thomas Fitzmaurice and Niall Maguire.

Brian O'Mahony (left) with his father Frank (centre) and co-driver John Higgins after he won the Dunlop National Rally Championship on the 2012 Donegal Harvest Rally. Picture: Martin Walsh.
Brian O'Mahony (left) with his father Frank (centre) and co-driver John Higgins after he won the Dunlop National Rally Championship on the 2012 Donegal Harvest Rally. Picture: Martin Walsh.

A few months later (March 2013) that West Cork Rally win followed and he was more than willing to allow his father organise the celebrations. “For what he has given me, it was the least I could do.”

Meanwhile, a series of high profile accidents gave Brian cause for concern.

“I remember watching an interview with Gerhard Berger about Ayrton Senna’s death and why the drivers carried on and he said something like that they knew it was dangerous but that was why they were being paid. I thought (for myself) this is a hobby and having achieved so much in a decade, I really didn’t want to undo those memories.” It led to Brian’s decision to park the rally car.

In the meantime, he has made gravel notes for Donagh Kelly (Tarmac and National champion in 2015) and last year he went back to karting.

“It’s for a bit of fun, in a sense, it’s back to square one.”

As for rallying, a case of been there, done that (with a sense of purpose and pride) and that’s being frank.

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