IN a thrilling Rentokil-Initial Killarney Historic Rally, four local co-drivers finished in the top ten.
Newcestown’s Adrian Deasy, co-driver to Killarney’s Alan Ring (Subaru Legacy), finished second overall; Ardfield’s Anthony O’Sullivan and his Welsh driver Neil Williams (Ford Escort) were fourth; Rosscarbery’s Alistair Wyllie and his English driver Tom Clark were eighth overall followed by Enniskeane’s Sean Hayde, who was co-driving with Welsh ace Melvyn Evans (Ford Escort).
Elsewhere, Clondrohid’s Eoghan McCarthy, co-driver with British driver Alan Watkins (Ford Escort), won Class D3 where Lisavaird co-driver Michael White partnered Wicklow’s Peter McCullagh (Ford Escort) to third in the same class. In the Modified category, Bandon’s Colin Fitzgerald (Ford Escort) finished second in Class 2.
The event, which marked the opening round of the Synergy Motorsport Engineering Irish Tarmac Historic Rally Championship, consisted of seven stages – including three runs over Moll’s Gap – for the first time in the history of the event since its inception in 1996.
Last year’s winners, Waterford’s Craig Breen and his Killarney co-driver Paul Nagle in the ex-Frank Meagher Sierra Cosworth, posted the best time on the morning opener, Moll’s Gap, where they were a mere seven tenths of a second ahead of the Sierra Cosworth 4x4 of Belfast’s Jonny Greer and his Sligo co-driver Niall Burns.
Tyrone’s Cathan McCourt and his Millstreet co-driver Liam Moynihan were third quickest, a further nine-tenths of a second behind, with Ring/Deasy completing the top quartet, 2.2 seconds off top spot. Williams/O’Sullivan were sixth and Evans/Hayde 12th.
Greer was best on Ballaghbeama and shared top spot with Breen with Ring/Deasy moving into third, 6.1 seconds off the lead. On the third and final stage of the opening loop, Greer took a 1.2-second lead over Breen with Ring/Deasy very much on the pace as they set the fastest stage time to remain third and only four seconds off the rally lead. Williams/O’Sullivan slotted into fourth ahead of McCourt/Moynihan. Evans/Hayde moved up to eleventh.
On the repeat of Moll’s Gap, Breen was 17.2 seconds faster than his first run and that performance saw him regain top spot, 3.2 seconds ahead of Greer, who took advantage of Breen’s spin at the hairpin in Ballaghbeama (SS 5) and duly cut the deficit to a single second.
With such tight margins, it was no surprise when Greer levelled proceedings once more courtesy of fastest stage time on the repeat of Kilgobnet where Ring lost touch with the leading pair due to a repeat of a misfire (at low revs) in their Subaru Legacy. While somewhat manageable, it eventually cost the Killarney/Newcestown duo precious time. Although they retained third they were 20.1 seconds adrift of the joint leaders.
Throngs of spectators waited at every vantage point on Moll’s Gap to witness the final stage showdown. However, drama unfolded just before the start when Breen’s Sierra stopped between the stage arrival and start control with a broken drive. His demise allowed Greer to tackle the stage with less pressure and he went on to take his first-ever win in a Motorsport Ireland governed event. For the second year in succession, Ring/Deasy finished second. McCourt/Moynihan set the best time on the final stage to edge Williams/O’Sullivan out of third spot.
With none of the top three registering for the ITC Historic championship, reigning champions Neil Williams/Anthony O’Sullivan took top points. The latter said, ‘Originally Neil wasn’t going to defend the title but we had a chat prior to the rally and I talked him around. From my perspective, the West Cork and Killarney events are top of the list any year, they’re just great events.
‘We may not go to Galway but the way the championship is structured and if you add the Cork ‘20’ it makes a title bid very possible even with four rallies. We had a great battle with Cathan McCourt all through; he was extremely quick on the last run over the Gap.’
Meanwhile, for Clondrohid’s Eoghan McCarthy and his driver Alan Watkins, victory in Class D3 was hard fought. Their Escort fitted with a new engine was down on power but they pushed hard all through without any moments albeit the gravelly surface at the start of Ballaghbeama was difficult. Meanwhile, Eoghan’s brother Iarla co-driving with Millstreet native Todd Falvey (Ford Escort) finished 19th overall.
RESULTS: 1. J. Greer/N. Burns (Ford Sierra Cosworth 4x4) 59m. 07.5s; 2. A. Ring/A. Deasy (Subaru Legacy)+ 30.6s; 3. C. McCourt/L. Moynihan (Ford Escort)+1m. 01.7s; 4. N. Williams/A. O'Sullivan (Ford Escort)+1m. 10.6s; 5. F. O'Meara/M. Galvin (Ford Escort)+1m. 59.7s; 6. D. Kelly/R. Kennedy (BMW M3)+2m. 12.4s; 7. R. Breen/D. Morrissey (Subaru Legacy)+3m. 12.2s; 8. T. Clark/A. Wyllie (Ford Escort)+3m. 18.9s; 9. M. Evans/S. Hayde (Ford Escort)+3m. 24.6s. 10 H. Hunt/S. McPhee (Ford Escort)+3m. 26.8s.