BY MARTIN WALSH
DONEGAL’S Donagh Kelly (Ford Focus WRC) headlines this weekend’s Quality Hotel West Cork International Rally as he tries to become the first-ever driver to win the Clonakilty event three times in a row.
Since its inception in 1977 only Bob Fowden has won the rally three times – 1995, 1997 and 1999.
Aside from Kelly, Richie Heeley (1984 and 1985) and John Price (1992 and 1993) are the other drivers that have managed to win back-to-back events.
With one of the best entries in recent times, competition and the battle for success should provide intriguing entertainment over the 14 stages throughout Saturday and Sunday.
It’s a mix of traditional WRCs, the newer R5 cars and, of course, all the modified cars within various classes.
The rally is the second round of the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship and the opening rounds of the PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 Rally Championship and the new FIA Celtic Trophy.
Kelly – who is the reigning Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac and Triton Showers National Rally champion – is only making selected appearances this year. His preference for the West Cork region and the manner he is welcomed here is one of the principal reasons for his return to Clonakilty. So too is that West Cork hat-trick.
On the evidence of current form Fermanagh’s Garry Jennings is probably the one driver that can prevent Kelly from making history, it is of no surprise that both have cars that are tuned and prepared to the highest standard.
Kelly and his preparation team has made the KN Network liveried Ford Focus WRC a very impressive package on Irish roads while the Subaru WRC of Jennings, a former Tarmac champion and winner of last week’s Mayo Rally has made his S12B Subaru WRC equally awesome.
This will mark Jennings’ first appearance in Clonakilty but that is unlikely to hinder his performance. In essence it makes for a fascinating contest. Although Donegal’s Declan Boyle is seeded at number three, he has withdrawn his entry.
Last week in Mayo he campaigned a Derek McGarrity-hired Ford Fiesta WRC, after a difficult event he retired with transmission troubles on the sixth stage. His own Ford Fiesta that was damaged on the Galway International is still not ready and there is no doubt that he needs to review the situation before he makes a competitive return. Certainly, the Fiesta doesn’t seem to work to the same degree as it did when it provided him with victory in last year’s Sligo Rally.
Winner four years ago, Midleton’s Daragh O’Riordan makes his first outing of the season in his Ford Fiesta WRC. It remains to be seen if he can discover the type form that made him almost invincible in Cork and Kerry events.
Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin is the highest seeded R5 driver. As leader of the Tarmac series, he will be expected to impress with Tyrone’s Alastair Fisher likely to be his most difficult opponent.
Monaghan’s Sam Moffett and his Bandon co-driver Karl Atkinson finished second in Clonakilty last year in a Ford Fiesta WRC. Now with an R5 version, it will be interesting to see if they can turn that into a positive experience to break the Cronin/Fisher dominance. In Galway, Desi Henry was best of the rest until he crashed out, as he continues to acclimatise to the Skoda Fabia R5, he is capable of bridging the gap to his rivals.
The top ten also includes Clonakilty’s Kevin Kelleher, who has Welsh co-driver Gwynfor Jones calling the notes. Kelleher had expressed the desire to acquire a more modern car for his local event but that does not appear to have materialised.
Clonmel’s Roy White (Ford Fiesta WRC) completes the top ten, as he will use the two-day encounter to gain more experience of his new car. He finished fourth in Mayo last week, a similar result in Clonakilty would be regarded as further progress.
The debut of Ovens man Owen Murphy in his Skoda Fabia S2000 provides another interesting facet to the rally. Three years ago Murphy, then on-board a Mitsubishi, finished second overall behind Carrigaline’s Brian O’Mahony (Subaru WRC). How he adapts to his new car remains to be seen, for certain he will not lack motivation.
The quality of the entry continues with Josh Moffett, Stephen Wright and Alan Ring, all in Ford Fiesta R5s, Jonny Greer (Citroen DS3 R5) and Joe McGonigle (Skoda Fabia S2000).
Moffett will be expected to push hard; Wright was third last season in Clonakilty, he took time to get on the pace in Galway while Killarney’s Alan Ring, who will be co-driven by Newcestown’s Adrian Deasy debuts his Fiesta R5.
Elsewhere, the R5/S2000 contingent includes Dubliner Aaron MacHale (Skoda S2000), Dundalk’s Brendan Cumiskey, Welshman Eurig Davies and Kilkenny’s Joe Connolly in Fiesta R5’s.
In Group N, Dunmanway’s David Guest (Mitsubishi), who won the category in Galway, will be expected to dominate on home ground. Elsewhere, other interesting entries are Billy Coleman award winner, Killarney’s Robert Duggan (Peugeot 208),
In the National section, Dunmanway’s Jason McSweeney will be expected to build in his impressive performance in Galway where he finished third overall. Bandon’s Sean O’Donovan (Mitsubishi) is also in Class 20.
Kilcrohane’s Jer O’Donovan in the ex-Eamonn Boland Subaru makes a welcome return to the sport; he is amongst the Group R contingent and he could spring a surprise.
West Cork Rally: When and where?
The ceremonial start on Friday night is at 7.30pm at Astna Square. Parc Ferme is in the Model Railway Village with the first car away on Saturday morning at 10.30am.
The day’s stages are Inchybridge (1&3), Ballinascarthy (2&4), Ring (5&7) and Dunworley (6&8) with servicing after every two stages at the Darrara Agricultural College complex.
Sunday’s stage locations are Shanaway (9&12), Sam’s Cross (10&13) and Ardfield (11&14) with servicing again based in Darrara. The finish ramp celebrations at Emmett Square (with music and entertainment in Kennedy Gardens) are at 4.30pm. The presentation of awards at the Quality Hotel, Clonakilty is at 9pm.