AMID sunshine and rain, this year’s Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally proved to be yet another absorbing contest before Josh Moffett came out on top.
It went down to the wire on the final stage with Monaghan’s Moffett (Hyundai i20 R5) and his Wexford co-driver Andy Hayes clinching back-to-back wins in Clonakilty.
Throngs of spectators were treated to a thrilling encounter and, after taking the lead on the third stage, Moffett fought off the challenges of Welshman Meirion Evans (VW Polo GTi R5) and Swords driver Robert Barrable (Citroen C3 Rally2) on the way to victory.
In the end, his unrelenting resolve shone through as he finished 8.9 seconds ahead of Barrable with Evans 42.7s further behind in third. Dunmanway’s Jason McSweeney (Ford Fiesta R5) was seventh and Clonakilty’s Cal McCarthy (Citroen C3 Rally2) was tenth.
Misty rain greeted the crews on Saturday morning as Evans had the honour of posting the best time on the opening Clogagh stage with Sam Moffett (Hyundai i20 N Rally2) slotting into second and Barrable another 1.7s behind. The top five, also including Derry’s Callum Devine (VW Polo GTi R5) and Josh Moffett, were covered by an 8.5s time-frame. Devine found his sweet spot and punched in the best time over Ballinascarthy but Evans retained top spot leading Devine by 2.9s with Barrable third and Josh Moffett fourth.
Arriving at the Darrara service park, Moffett said: ‘There was a lot of standing water, it would have been better if I was on a wet tyre.’ Ovens driver Owen Murphy (Citroen C3 Rally2) was the leading Cork driver in tenth. ‘The car is fine, I’m happy enough,’ he said. Gareth MacHale was the first major retirement when he crashed his VW Polo GTi R5 at high speed, luckily both himself and co-driver Brian Murphy escaped injury.
As Moffett set off for the repeat of both stages, a correct tyre choice had an immediate impact. He took 17s off his previous time over Clogagh to take the lead of the rally and with another cracking time on the repeat of Ballinascarthy, he arrived at the service park with a 7.1s lead over Evans with Devine a fraction of a second further behind. Derry’s Desi Henry (Citroen C3 Rally2) slipped off the road and out of the rally on SS3.
Murphy retained tenth with Dunmanway’s David Guest (Ford Fiesta Rally2) seven tenths of a second behind.
By the time the crews tackled the stages at Ring and Dunworley, the sun was glistening on the water along the coast as Moffett thrilled the crowds on the fast-flowing stages.
Only Evans interrupted his run of fastest stage times (Ring 2) and then it was only by a fraction of a second. Moffett returned to Clonakilty with an overnight advantage of 18.6s from Evans with Devine third, 28s off the rally lead. Barrable, who had the experienced Omagh co-driver Gordon Noble by his side, held fourth, 36.1s behind Moffett.
The overnight top ten was completed by the quartet of Jonny Greer, David Kelly, Cathan McCourt and Owen Murphy, all in Citroen C3 Rally 2 cars and the Mk 2 Ford Escort of Gary Kiernan, who led the two-wheel-drive section. David Guest retired after his Fiesta clipped a rock that broke a wheel and damaged the gearbox.
Sunday’s weather prediction of rain proved correct, to leave the vast crowds pondering if Evans could achieve another fightback or if Josh Moffett could continue his dominance. The driver most spoken about after the Shanaway stage (Kilmeen/Rossmore) was Robert Barrable. He set a scintillating pace, gleaning 10.5s, 11.3s and 4s from the respective three stages that also featured Sam’s Cross and Ardfield. The net result catapulted him into second and 10.3 seconds behind Moffett.
As they entered the service park, Moffett remarked: ‘It’s very tricky out there.’ Barrable gave a simple explanation of his new-found pace. ‘It just clicked right from the first corner of stage nine.’ Evans slipped 24s off top spot, admitting he hadn’t made the best possible tyre choice.
For Devine, it was a case of best of the rest, he overshot a junction on SS10 and was struggling for confidence. Elsewhere, Sam Moffett seemed to lack motivation and dropped behind Greer. Having lost well over 40s on Saturday, McCourt decided to try out various settings and new dampers.
Although Owen Murphy lost time as he coped with wiper problems and a misted windscreen, he moved to eighth following the demise of Donegal’s David Kelly (Citroen), who crashed on Sam’s Cross. Gary Kiernan (ninth) held a strong lead in the two-wheel-drive category following the retirement of Daniel McKenna (differential). Dunmanway’s Jason McSweeney (Ford Fiesta R5) entered the top ten on SS10, Sam’s Cross.
Not for the first time, the West Cork Rally was set for an exciting finish.
Having dropped 20.8s to Barrable on the first run of Shanaway, Moffett secured a confidence booster when he won the repeat of the stage, albeit by half a second. But Barrable wasn’t done and when he closed to within 6.3s of the rally leader, the tension increased.
But Moffett held his nerve. ‘At the last service, we had a look at things and knew there were a few places we could improve,’ he said. ‘Even though it was only 6.3s, I figured it would be enough.’
Indeed, and so it proved as the Monaghan driver set the best time and ended with an 8.9s winning margin for back-to-back wins in West Cork and the lead of the Samdec Irish Tarmac Rally Championship. Evans was third from Devine, Greer and Sam Moffett.
McCourt crashed on the penultimate stage. Murphy’s top-ten spot went awry when he beached his undamaged Citroen on SS11 and lost over 17 minutes before eventually finishing 57th. McSweeney was the top local driver in seventh with Clonakilty’s Cal McCarthy and his Rosscarbery co-driver Eric Calnan completing the top ten.
RESULTS: 1. J. Moffett/A. Hayes (Hyundai i20 R5) 2h. 00m. 19.6s; 2. R. Barrable/G. Noble (Citroen C3 Rally2) +8.9s; 3.M. Evans/J. Jackson (VW Polo GTi R5) +51.6s; 4. C. Devine/N. O’Sullivan (VW Polo GTi R5) +1m. 16.9s; 5. J. Greer/N. Burns (Citroen C3 Rally2) +1m. 20.0s; 6. S. Moffett/K. Moriarty (Hyundai i20 N Rally2) +1m. 54.5s; 7. J. McSweeney/L. Brennan (Ford Fiesta R5) +8m. 04.8s; 8. G. Kiernan/C. Mulgrew (Ford Escort) +8m. 07.2s; 9. A. MacHale/D. Brannigan (VW Polo GTi R5) +9m. 00.6s; 10. C. McCarthy/E. Calnan (Citroen C3 Rally2) +9m. 37.1s.