BALLYLICKEY’S Daniel Cronin (25) and his Killarney co-driver Shane Buckley in a Mitsubishi led all the way and emerged popular winners of the Westlodge Hotel Fastnet Rally in Bantry on Sunday last.
Despite their 37.5 second winning margin the event remained poised entering the sixth and final stage. Tyre selection that was based on the optimum for that sixth stage at Nowen Hill had the desired effect and coupled with a spin by their rivals, Dundalk’s Brendan Cumiskey/Ronan O’Kane (Ford Fiesta R5), gave Cronin/Buckley the spoils with Daniel becoming the sixth local driver to win the event.
Carlow’s David Condell and his Macroom co-driver Gavin Sheehan (Toyota Starlet) were 20.2 seconds further behind in third.
Bandon’s Vincent McSweeney (Honda Civic) and his Ownahincha co-driver Eamonn Hayes won an exciting contest in Class 11F and were a fine fifth overall. Rosscarbery’s Jason O’Mahony (Honda Civic) and Tragumna’s Breda O’Driscoll were one place and a mere 2.7 seconds behind in both.
There were also top ten finishes from Clonakilty’s Cal McCarthy (Citroen C2R2) and his Ballinascarthy co-driver Eamonn Dullea, who won Class 2, and Skibbereen brother and sister Adrian and Alison Levis (Honda Civic).
The rally also decided the destiny of the PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 Rally Championship with Killarney’s Charlie and Johnny Hickey (Ford Escort) annexing the title, the non-appearance of title rivals Callum Devine/Keith Moriarty easing their path to success.
The withdrawal of top seed Joe McGonigle (Skoda Fabia R5) diluted an entry that was not reflective of the calibre of previous years. The loss of the opening stage was another disappointment; apparently this was due to a communications issue. Motorsport Ireland officials took the collective and correct decision to cancel the stage and all cars were directed to the second stage. In many ways and judging from the reaction of the competitors the cancellation of the stage was a blessing in disguise as the road surface at the time was treacherously slippery.
On the second stage Cronin powered his way to the top of the leaderboard, taking a 5.6 second lead over the Escort of Jonny Pringle, justifiably one of the event favourites. Condell was also very much in the picture, 3.4 seconds further behind in third.
First on the road, Cumiskey (Fiesta R5) occupied fourth from a high-flying Jason O’Mahony (Honda Civic), who led Class 11F where late entry Donoughmore’s Jonathan O’Callaghan (Peugeot 106) was 5.4 seconds behind.
Out on SS 3 and with road conditions drying favourably, Pringle reduced the deficit to Cronin to 3.9 seconds. However, the repeat of Nowen Hill ended what could have been a tense battle. Having opted for a hard tyre that seemed set to pay dividends, Pringle’s rally came to an abrupt end when his pristine Escort left the road on a right-hand bend and rolled twice into the scenery.
Cronin arrived at the Bantry service park with a lead of 18.3 seconds with second-placed Cumiskey reckoning his tyre choice cost him time. A trouble-free Condell was in 17.7 seconds further behind with Australian resident Pauric Duffy (Fiesta R5) next in classification.
The local contingent dominated the remainder of the top ten. Jason O’Mahony headed proceedings and Class 11F. Having seen Vincent McSweeney narrow the margin between them to 4.4 seconds after the completion of SS 3, O’Mahony made the perfect riposte on SS 4 where he gained time and extended the margin to 8.9 seconds.
Youghal’s Jason Ryan was third in class and seventh overall but admitted, ‘I have no answer to them’.
Late entry Donoughmore’s Leonard Downey (Escort) was eighth and untroubled as Adrian Levis (Honda Civic) and Cal McCarthy (Citroen) rounded off the top ten, the latter reporting a hairline crack in the exhaust manifold. Jonathan O’Callaghan lost time with a misfire. Cronin’s tyre choice was based on a preference for the second stage of the loop and in this case, the final stage. He was unperturbed when Cumiskey set the pace on the penultimate stage and cut his lead to 12 seconds. Duffy stole a march on Condell to snatch third, albeit by 1.9 seconds. Meanwhile, McSweeney – growing in confidence – set the pace in Class 11F and reduced O’Mahony’s lead to 5.7 seconds.
On the final stage Cronin delivered another good stage time to secure a deserved win. Cumiskey spun and lost time but was magnanimous in defeat, saying ‘I wouldn’t have caught Daniel anyway, he’s a great driver’.
Condell upped his own pace to regain third spot with Duffy settling for fourth, one of his best-ever results.
A final throw of the dice gave McSweeney the honours in the two-wheel drive category and victory in Class 11F as he edged out O’Mahony by just 2.7 seconds. Ryan was next and seventh overall. Cal McCarthy made up one place to finish eighth overall with Downey and Levis securing the final places in the top ten.
Talented Carrigaline driver Eric Calnan (Peugeot 106), who was co-driven by Donoughmore’s Bernard Foley, took victory in the junior section and was eleventh in general classification. Local class winners included Drimoleague’s Martin Lordan/Rory Hennessey (Ford Escort), who won Class 9, Bandon’s Victor and Susan (Vauxhall Nova) winners of Class 10. In Class 17, victory went to Ballydehob’s George Swanton/Kevin Barry (Escort) and Glengarriff’s Noel Hurley/JP O’Brien (Saab) won Class 18.
At the finish ramp at the Westlodge Hotel, rally winner Daniel Cronin told The Southern Star: ‘I have always wanted to win this rally, I pushed hard, on the last stage some gear oil deposit was blown on to the windscreen but we managed to get through’.
In what has been a superb month for the Cronin family with Keith capturing the Tarmac series, Daniel joked, ‘This is something Keith hasn’t done’.
Results: 1. D Cronin/S Buckley (Mitsubishi) 1h 02m 14.1s; 2. B Cumiskey/R O’Kane (Ford Fiesta R5) 1h 02m 51.6s; 3. G Condell/G Sheehan (Toyota Starlet) 1h 03m 11.8s; 4. P Duffy/J Casey (Ford Fiesta R5) 1h 03m 21.3s; 5. V McSweeney/E Hayes (Honda Civic) 1h 04m 30.4s; 6. J O’Mahony/B O’Driscoll (Honda Civic) 1h 04m 33.1s; 7. J Ryan/F Quirke (Honda Civic) 1h 05m 04.0s; 8. C McCarthy/E Dullea (Citroen C2 R2)1h 05m 29.9s; 9. L Downey/M Murphy (Ford Escort) 1h 05m 45.9s; 10. A Levis/A Levis (Honda Civic) 1h 05m 51.0s.
Ballyvourney’s Gerard Lucey (Mitsubishi and his Kilnamartyra co-driver JJ Cremin compete in the final and deciding round of the Valvoline Irish Forest Rally Championship, the Glens of Antrim Rally on Saturday. They are second in the series eight points behind Antrim’s Desi Henry and Millstreet’s Liam Moynihan.