BY MARTIN WALSH
MOST people have a favourite drive and in West Cork the choice is virtually endless, whether it’s along the coastline of the Wild Atlantic Way or more inland and mountainous.
Such favouritism is more related to the scenic quality, but rally drivers have a different perspective and we sought the views of Ballylickey’s Daniel Cronin, Clonakilty’s Cal McCarthy and Ovens’ Owen Murphy on what is their favourite stretch of competitive tarmac. Not surprisingly, the outcome proffered three different locations but all were in Cork.
Daniel Cronin recalls his early rallying days but enthuses about how his Ford Fiesta R5 reacts over his favourite stage, Cal McCarthy has yet to really sample his favourite stage onboard his Citroen DS3 R5 while Owen Murphy will also have to wait to try his new Ford Fiesta R5 on his favourite.
DANIEL CRONIN: Cill na Martra would be my most favourite stage in Ireland simply because I always seem to have a very good time on it. All the way back to my first rally car, a Peugeot 206, I won the Junior section in the Cork ‘20’ in 2012, we did Cill na Martra twice and were fastest each time.
We did it again in 2018 and last year in my R5 Fiesta and, again, it proved to be a stage I went really well and was fastest over it on SS 3 of the Cork ‘20’ in 2019 and took the lead by 22 seconds. Unfortunately, we lost due to an off on the Sunday stages. Most of my lead was built up due to my runs through Cill na Martra. I really like the stage because, first of all, it’s about 20 kilometres of corner after corner. It’s not a very open stage, the ditches are quite close and loads of corners with bumps on them and a few big jumps also. It’s an incredible stage in the R5 as they are so good at soaking up everything the stage throws at it. It’s a really nice feeling to be airborne in a lot of places, it’s kind of like a rollercoaster ride.
Also, it's a very challenging stage for a co-driver as well in the line of writing notes on recce day and calling pacenotes, whether in recce or rallying – you certainly would get a good night’s sleep after for sure.
Everything about this stage, from start to finish, is a challenge with constantly changing grip. If you are trying too hard you can get brake failure due to the long nature of the stage which is due to pretty much too much hard braking, so you have to be thinking all the time. Apparently, Sebastien Loeb said it was one of his favourite stages he had ever done, so a nine-time world champion can’t be too far out.
CAL McCARTHY: A number of stages come to mind, all in the south west like Cod’s Head, Ardgroom and Caragh Lake, all of which are tight twisty stages which have suited my driving style in a front-wheel drive car. However, I would say the one stage I long to have another blast at it in the R5 car is close to home, one of the traditional and great West Cork Rally stages, Ardfield. The version I like is the one that starts close to Dunmore House Hotel and follows the coast through the bumpy cross roads heading for the village, continuing on to the Red Strand and Fisher’s Cross, etc. The rally ran a long version back in 2009 or 2010, extending up to 19 miles, which really is a test for man and machine.
The attraction to this stage is the smooth surface throughout and the flowing nature of the stage. While there are a lot of junctions on the stage, many are extremely fast and require inch-perfect lines. Indeed, the stage could be seen as our own racing circuit in West Cork.
I’ve had some memorable runs at the stage. The first year in the Class 9 1300cc Suzuki Swift was quite eventful, running along many a ditch. In 2014 the Sunday stages in Ardfield allowed us to cement our top ten finish in the Honda Civic and in 2015 it was the scene of my biggest accident when I spun out in fifth gear just after leaving the village. I look forward to competing on this version in the future and hopefully amongst the top cars and drivers in the country.
(Interestingly, Cal McCarthy reckons that the iconic Moll’s Gap is his least favourite stage. He commented: ‘That is probably due to the fact that I have never cracked it, it’s one I dread.’
OWEN MURPHY: Without doubt, Lough Allua that begins in Ballingeary is my favourite stage. For the most part, the first section is very narrow and quite challenging with several hairpins and tight corners. The grip level is good, so tyre choice is important in order to extract a good stage time. After about three kilometres the stage opens up as you pass the lake, the corner severity has reduced a little on this section but the speed has increased as has my concentration level with the sequence of high-speed undulating corners.
You have to be perfect on each corner, both on approach and exit and my karting experience stands me in good stead. The character of the stage changes again to a wider section of road where the speed increases to the next level with lots of high speed crests. Then, from previous experience, I am aware that the ‘sting in the tail’ is fast approaching. Taking a left turn on to a narrow road followed by a full speed jump at the pink house and then followed by the trickiest section of road on the Irish rallying calendar with severe jumps, severe corners and narrow roads that are further exacerbated by the fact that I have already driven 15 kilometres.
With only a few kilometres to negotiate, there are more jumps with terrain and the line of the corners where it’s crucial to keep the speed up. Then, my co-driver Anthony calls ‘four right over finish’ and within seconds happiness and exhaustion entwine like an express train, and Anthony hands me a bottle of water. I wait to see if its accompanied by a smile and I know without asking our time was good.’