Second fastest through yesterday’s shakedown stage for RallyRACC Catalunya - Rally de Espana, round 11 of the World Rally Championship, Irish pair Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle spearhead Citroen’s challenge for the three-day encounter.
Today’s stages (six) are on gravel and overnight, the cars will be converted to tarmac specification for tomorrow and Sunday.
Yesterday, Meeke and Hyundai’s new recruit Andreas Mikkelsen were both within a second of WRC leader M-Sport’s Sebastien Ogier (Ford Fiesta). However, the French outfit have acknowledged that it will be on the two days of tarmac action that will be the key to success as they strive to end the season on a positive note.
Meanwhile, team principal Yves Matton has stated that signing Ogier is his main priority for the 2018 season. That is likely to give Meeke, who won in Mexico several months ago, that extra spur this weekend. Ogier is 17 points ahead of Thierry Neuville (Hyundai), who has vowed to erase his disappointment in Germany where broken suspension left him pointless.
Tomorrow’s Donegal Harvest Rally in Dunfanaghy has a capacity entry (131) along with six reserves and six Juniors. Former double Irish champion Declan Boyle (Fiesta WRC) heads the entry and bids to claim his fourth successive event victory.
He has intimated that if work commitments allow, he may look at an R5 over the winter months, next year he will start both Tarmac and National championships. Tomorrow, his main opposition will come from former national champion Warrenpoint’s Peadar Hurson (Ford Fiesta WRC).
Third overall in last week’s Cork “20” Joe McGonigle (Skoda Fabia R5) will have to be on the pace from the start if he is to make an impression on the top two and may come under pressure from fellow Donegal duo Damien Gallagher (Ford Escort) and Kevin Eves (Toyota Corolla).
The two-wheel drive category also features the talented Donegal driver Declan Gallagher (Toyota Starlet) along with Brian Brogan, Ryan Loughran, Damien Tourish and Ed O’Callaghan – all in Ford Escorts.
Meanwhile, Derek McGarrity (Subaru) and Marty McCormack (Ford Escort) are two notable reserve entries. Based on a loop of three stages repeated three times, the opening stage gets underway at 10.27am. Rally headquarters is at the Shandon Spa & Hotel, Marble Hill.
After a series of deferments, the meeting to discuss a three-year plan for Irish rallying drawn up by members of the Rallies Committee will take place as part of the CAC (Competitions Advisory Committee) in Dublin on Tuesday. The plan, if implemented, will reduce the number of rallies from 32 to 25 annually for the next three years. While all clubs will lose one event, the only championship that is not affected is the Tarmac series.
A previous meeting brought differences of opinion while one of the questions that went relatively unanswered was how the financial shortfall - estimated by some to be as much as €300,000 - will be addressed. Rallies Committee chairperson Richard Talbot is hoping that the plan will be ratified.
“I don’t know where that figure (€300,000) is coming from, but the Motorsport Ireland hierarchy will have the figures. Some people just don’t see the bigger picture.”
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