BY MARTIN WALSH
IRISH rallying returns in earnest this weekend with the Acesigns Galway International Rally on Saturday and Sunday.
The beginning of any rally season is one that is full of anticipation, perhaps more on this occasion as regular followers of the Irish Tarmac Championship have been deprived of top-class action for far too long.
The entry is one of the best in recent times and includes several local drivers led by Ballylickey’s Daniel Cronin, who will debut a Volkswagen Polo GTi at number 11. Within the top 25 seeds, Cronin will be joined by Dunmanway’s David Guest and Dunmanway’s Jason McSweeney. 2020 Galway winners and top seeds Fermanagh’s Alastair Fisher and his Omagh co-driver Gordon Noble will drive a Mel Evans prepared VW Polo GTi R5.
Predicting a winner in Galway is never easy and this time around with the likes of Derry’s Callum Devine (Ford Fiesta Rally2), Meirion Evans (VW Polo GTi R5) and former tarmac champion Monaghan’s Josh Moffett (Hyundai i20 R5) all competing, it makes that task even more difficult.
Unfortunately, reigning British champion Matt Edwards (VW Polo GTi R5) has withdrawn his entry as he failed to secure sponsorship to contest the series. Meanwhile, Belfast’s Jonny Greer gives an ITRC debut to his Citroen C3, Tyrone’s Cathan McCourt is expected to make a late switch to a VW Polo GTi R5 along with five-time West Cork Rally winner Donagh Kelly (VW Polo GTi R5) and fellow Donegal driver Declan Boyle (Fiesta WRC) and Fermanagh’s Garry Jennings (Fiesta R5) complete a superb to ten.
Given the quality on show, it also puts into perspective the task ahead of the West Cork trio, who all told The Southern Star of their expectations and plans.
‘I just want to get comfortable and accustomed to it and get around clean and tidy,’ said Daniel Cronin ahead of his VW Polo GTi debut. ‘From watching the DVD, the stages seem to be muddy and tricky. The Saturday stages look narrow and it’s easy to slip off the road. I prefer the faster stuff, for sure, but on the first day out in the car, narrow and twisty is fine too.’
The fact that Cronin now has a car on par with the rest, prompted this response: ‘I can’t be blaming the tools now, I have everything. We have the best tyres (Pirelli) and the best car.’
Having secured his first-ever rally win at the end-of-the-year Cork Rallysprint, David Guest is another full of anticipation.
‘I really can’t wait to get going now,’ he quipped. ‘The last time in Galway (2020), we were going well, until we slipped off the road, unfortunately. I have spent some time in the car and the plan is to be nice and steady with the full intention of getting two good days of rallying. Galway is not the place to throw caution to the wind and expect to finish. Once I get mileage and get the car working that will be fine. I am going to register for the series for sure. If by Sunday evening we are somewhere in the top ten I would be happy. If I am close to Daniel’s (Cronin) times it would be a good benchmark.’
Jason McSweeney’s right-hand drive Ford Fiesta R5 (Mk 1 Evo 2) is only eligible to score ITRC points and win its own class.
‘I am going to compete in the series. Galway is always a tricky event. With the likes of Garry Jennings and Tim McNulty also in right-hand drive cars it’s great for comparison. Galway is all about survival and it’s back to two days again,’ McSweeney explained.
Meanwhile, Clonakilty’s Cal McCarthy had to pull out as he is waiting on parts for his car.
Elsewhere, the West Cork contingent features Kilcrohane’s Jer O'Donovan (Skoda Fabia S2000), who will be co-driven by Enniskeane’s Sean Hayde (Mitsubishi Lancer EvoIX), Dunmanway’s Conor McCarthy has Dripsey’s Gavin Sheehan calling the notes while Barryroe co-driver Dylan Doolan sits with British driver Fraser Anderson (Ford Fiesta Rally 4). There are nine stages on Saturday and six on Sunday, all in the Loughrea region.
Meanwhile, in karting, Colin Cronin (13) competes in the Junior X30 category of this weekend’s Iame Winter Cup at the International Kartodromo Circuit near Valencia in Spain. He races with the Carrigadrohid-based DMS (Daly Motorsport) team, who have joined up with the British Fusion Motorsport team for the series. Practice takes place today (Thursday) qualifying on Friday followed by heats on Friday evening and Saturday with the finals on Sunday.