THE realisation of a long-held ambition comes to fruition this weekend with the second round of the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship – the Quality Hotel West Cork Rally.
The decision by the Twomey family to sponsor the tarmac series greatly increased the possibility of the West Cork becoming a full counting round.
Last year it wedged its way as a round of the modified category. Full status this weekend completes the menu in terms of the ITC.
Last year’s West Cork Rally winner, Donegal’s Donagh Kelly (Ford Focus WRC), heads a capacity entry that certainly, within the top ten, has been boosted by ITC recognition.
Kelly won the opening round in Galway where his fellow county driver Declan Boyle (Subaru WRC) was penalised three minutes. Although the penalty, or perhaps the manner that is was imposed was quite controversial, sportingly, Boyle opted not to pursue the matter and he had to be content with fifth place.
Kelly also won the opening round of the Triton Showers National Rally Championship and he arrives in Clonakilty in a very buoyant mood.
The fact that he sampled the local terrain last year will also be of benefit. There is no doubt that his victory in Clonakilty 12 months has helped to raise the level of his performance.
Back-to-back wins on the West Cork Rally is not a easy feat. In fact, it’s only been achieved twice since the inception of the rally in 1977. For the record, Dubliner Richie Heeley (Ford Escort), in 1984 and 1985, and John Price (Metro 6R4), in 1992 and 1993, are the only pair to have notched back-to-back successes. This weekend Kelly will need a high level of performance to join that illustrious list.
Reigning Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac champion, Declan Boyle (Subaru WRC) will have his first taste of the West Cork terrain.
The Lettermacaward driver is noted for showing great pace, particularly on the second run over the stages. He should thrive on the stages like Ring and Ardfield. Incidentally, his Subaru WRC has won the event in the hands of Tim McNulty in 2010.
Former winner Daragh O’Riordan, who triumphed in 2012, will be on his first competitive outing of the season in his SPH liveried Ford Fiesta WRC.
Another driver on his first appearance in West Cork is Monaghan’s Sam Moffett (Ford Fiesta WRC) where he will be co-driven by Bandon’s Karl Atkinson. Moffett was third in Galway and although at the time he remarked that he wasn’t going to tackle the Clonakilty Blackpudding series, his presence is probably more aligned to a shakedown for next month’s Circuit of Ireland Rally.
Moffett won the Rally of the Lakes in Killarney last May when he capitalised after both Kelly and Boyle crashed out of the lead at various stages.
Popular Welsh driver Mel Evans knows what its like to win in Clonakilty – in 2002 (Ford Escort WRC) and again in 2006 (Subaru WRC). It’s difficult to predict how close he will be to the cutting edge of proceedings given that he devotes most of his time to car preparation rather than competing.
Monaghan’s Josh Moffett will campaign the ex-Craig Breen Ford Fiesta WRC and will occupy the number six berth. Last October he debuted brother Sam’s Ford Fiesta WRC on the Westlodge Hotel Fastnet Rally but took a cautious approach in the inclement conditions. This weekend his performance will be much sharper.
The second Cork driver in the top ten is Ovens ace Owen Murphy, who will use his Valvoline Irish Forest Rally Championship-winning Mitsubishi Evo IX. Having decided not to defend his forest title Murphy is concentrating on a few of his favourite events this year. Two seasons ago he finished second overall in the West Cork and while that seems a lofty ambition in the current circumstances with a WRC top six, it will not dim his enthusiasm.
The top ten is completed by the Ulster trio of Jonny Greer (Citroen DS3 R5), Stephen Wright (Ford Fiesta R5) and Declan Gallagher (Toyota Starlet).
The contest between Greer and Wright, who will campaign the ex-Robert Barrable car, should be interesting.
Meanwhile, Gallagher, who won the modified category in Clonakilty last year is hugely popular on board his Toyota Starlet. Indeed, he is the driver to beat in the two-wheel drive category where opposition includes the equally popular Phil Collins, Adrian Hetherington and Wesley Patterson, all in Ford Escorts. Kilkenny’s Eoin Doyle in the ex-Ray Breen Ford Focus WRC is also amongst the top 20.
Former national rally champion Aaron MacHale is the top seeded traditional Group N driver. He finished third overall in last week’s Mayo Rally in Ballina.
Opposition in the showroom class includes Brendan Cumiskey (Subaru) and Brian O’Keeffe, who will be co-driven by Enniskeane’s Sean Hayde.
The final duo in the top 20 seeded list are Donegal’s Joseph McGonigle (Skoda Fabia S2000) and Killarney’s Fergus O’Meara (Ford Escort). Billy Coleman award winner Dean Raftery (Mini WRC) is amongst the reserve list and is likely to start within the top ten.
Meanwhile, there’s an extra treat in store for the spectators as Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin, the former triple British Rally champion, will drive the Denis Cronin Subaru WRC as one of the 00 cars on the Sunday stages.
Scotland’s Stuart Loudon will co-drive for Cronin, who seems likely to partner the Ballylickey man in Rally Portugal, when he will begin his WRC2 programme.