BY MARTIN WALSH
FORMER World Rally star Mikko Hirvonen will be one of the one of the main attractions for next month’s Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally.
The participation of the Finnish driver, winner of 15 WRC events, was announced at the launch at the Clonakilty Park Hotel, headquarters of the event and title sponsor for the past 13 years.
Hirvonen helped Ford to manufacturers’ titles in both the 2006 and 2007 World Rally Championship and was runner-up in the WRC four times behind Sebastian Loeb. He retired from the World Rally Championship scene in 2014.
Hirvonen will drive a Mk 2 Ford Escort for the event, which takes place on March 16th and 17th. This year, for the first time, the West Cork Rally will form part of the British Rally Championship and also continues as a counting round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
At the reception, it was also announced that The Southern Star is a media partner of the West Cork Rally. The rally’s BRC status was a key element of the launch that was attended by political and sporting dignitaries.
There will be four stages on the Saturday, each repeated twice with a short 2km stage on Saturday evening close to Clonakilty town. Sunday’s itinerary is a loop of three stages, repeated twice.
Throughout the weekend, the service park is at the Teagasc Agricultural College complex in Darrara. The rally finish is at Emmet Square.
The West Cork Rally was first held in 1977, when it was won by rally legend Billy Coleman (Ford Escort). The first West Cork driver to win the event was Dunmanway-born Donal O’Donovan, who, along with his co-driver Pat Lordan, won the event in a Ford Sierra in 1998.
Other local winners included Ballylickey’s Denis Cronin (Subaru WRC) in 2005 when he was co-driven by Helen O’Sullivan. In 2009, Dunmanway’s Liam McCarthy and co-driver Kieran Murphy took their Toyota Corolla WRC to a popular victory.
This year, Ballylickey’s Daniel Cronin (Ford Fiesta R5) – a brother of four-time British rally champion Keith, will spearhead the local challenge that should also include the Skoda Fabia S2000 duo of Dunmanway’s David Guest and Kilcrohane’s Jer O’Donovan.
Donegal’s Donagh Kelly (Ford Focus WRC) has won the rally for the last five years.