AS much as the shamrock is synonymous with St Patrick’s Day, so too is the Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally identified with St Patrick’s weekend.
The action takes place this Saturday and Sunday over the classic West Cork stages that will provide a strong and, no doubt, exciting challenge.
Reigning Irish Tarmac rally champion and last year’s event winner, Monaghan’s Josh Moffett (Hyundai i20 R5), will tackle Clogagh, the first of 14 stages at around 9.37am on Saturday morning, at top seed.
The opening round in Galway was hotly contested and this weekend’s second round of the Tarmac series is not expected to be any different. Indeed, it will probably be even more intense.
Moffett freely admits he likes the ‘heat of battle’ and along with his older brother Sam, there are several more drivers that will push him to the limit over the fast flowing terrain of West Cork.
The event is now very much part of the Tarmac series. It more than rivals the likes of Donegal and Killarney that are considered iconic events. Moffett renews his battle with Derry’s Callum Devine (VW Polo GTi R5), who held the upper hand on the recent Midland Moto Rally and that confidence-boosting win raises the bar another notch.
Moffett will be itching to redress the power struggle. However, there are other significant players too, like Welsh ace Meirion Evans (VW Polo GTi R5), who was second in Clonakilty last year and ended the season with victory on the Ulster Rally, his first of the ITRC campaign. His 2023 campaign got off to the perfect start with a fine win in Galway. His liking for the West Cork Rally is well known and he would be delighted to join the list of event winners that includes his father Melvyn, who won here in 2002 and 2006.
Tyrone’s Cathan McCourt is the first of four drivers in the top ten behind the wheel of a Citroen C3 Rally2; the French marque has become very popular this season. The latest version of the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 in the hands of Monaghan’s Sam Moffett awaits its maiden Irish win.
Dubliner Robert Barrable, Belfast’s Jonny Greer and Derry’s Desi Henry, who debuted his car on last week’s Bishopscourt Rally in County Down, are also in Citroen mode as former Tarmac champions, Declan Boyle and Gareth MacHale, in their respective left and right hand drive VW Polo GTi R5s, complete the top ten.
Dunmanway’s David Guest, in the Ford Fiesta Rally2 that Devine drove in Clonakilty last year, is the highest seeded local driver. He was disappointed with the performance of the car in Longford last Sunday and reckoned the power output wasn’t as sharp as it was last season.
Ovens driver Owen Murphy will be buoyed by the popularity of the Citroen C3 Rally2. It marks his first outing in the car since the Tipperary Stonethrowers Rally last July. Seat time may be a factor as he bids to match the opposition. Yet another Citroen, in the hands of Donegal’s David Kelly, follows Murphy off the start line. Clonakilty’s Cal McCarthy in a David Greer Motorsport hired Citroen C3 Rally2 occupies the number 15 berth; he had an outing in last week’s Bishopscourt Rally where he finished 19yj overall.
The top 20 also features Dubliner Aaron MacHale (VW Polo GTi R5); Limerick’s Keith Lyons (Ford Fiesta Rally2), who has Kilnamartyra’s JJ Cremin on the notes; Dunmanway’s Jason McSweeney in his right-hand drive Ford Fiesta R5 while Donegal duo Aaron McLaughlin (Ford Fiesta R5) and Kevin Eves (Toyota Corolla) complete the top 20.
Hyundai Motorsport driver Craig Breen (No. 42) competes in the ex-Frank Meagher Sierra Cosworth and will be co-driven by Killarney’s Paul Nagle.
Elsewhere, some of the many local entries are Clonakilty’s Kevin Kelleher (Ford Fiesta R5), Bandon’s Vincent McSweeney (Mitsubishi) and Dunmanway’s Conor McCarthy (Mitsubishi). Ownahincha co-driver Eamonn Hayes sits with Banteer’s Barry Meade (Escort) and Enniskeane’s Sean Hayde calls the notes for Waterford’s Brian O’Keeffe (Mitsubishi).
In the Historic section, Ardfield’s Anthony O’Sullivan co-drives with top seed and Welshman Neil Williams (Escort). In the Juniors, the Clonakilty crew of Darragh O’Donovan/Michael White (Honda Civic) are the top seeds while Rylane’s Robbie O’Hanlon occupies the number three slot, also in a Honda Civic.
The ceremonial start on Friday night begins at 7.30pm in Connolly Street and the finish ramp celebrations are scheduled for 4pm in Pearse Street on Sunday.
Programmes with full details are on sale locally.