Kelly the man to catch on historic weekend in Clon

History will be made this weekend as the Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally becomes the first event under the jurisdiction of Motorsport Ireland to be part of the British Rally Championship.

The fusion of the BRC and the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship on the 15-stage rally has resulted in one of the best entries of recent times. In addition, the presence of former four times WRC star Mikko Hirvonen, who will compete in a left-hand drive Mk 2 Ford Escort, will also increase spectator levels in Clonakilty.

Top seed, Donegal’s Donagh Kelly, who has dominated this event for the past five seasons, makes his debut in a Skoda Fabia R5. Interestingly, R5 cars fill the top 24 places and, for the first time in an Irish International Rally, there is no World Rally Car on the entry list, a vindication of the decision taken some three years ago by the Tarmac Rally Organisers Association (TROA) to base the series on R5 cars.

Picking a winner in Clonakilty is difficult but out-of-contract World Championship driver and Galway International Rally winner Craig Breen is again the benchmark. The fact this will be his first outing in the region will matter little, as drivers of his calibre having completed the customary reconnaissance will be on the pace from the start. Although Kelly is number one seed, Breen is first away down the Ring road around 11am tomorrow. 

Breen’s Galway winning Fiesta R5 was dispatched across the Atlantic on the instructions of Cork native John Campion of CJJ Motorsport, one of his sponsors. It has been replaced by a more recent specification Fiesta R5. Breen didn’t have it all his own way in Galway, and West Cork may not be different, but he should still have the edge.

The likes of Alastair Fisher and the Moffett brothers Sam and Josh in similar Fiesta R5s will also be in the mix. Three years ago in Clonakilty, Fisher performed well until he crashed out. His performance in Galway, his first in over a year, showed he’s still a major force. For the last two years Josh Moffett was the top R5 driver in the event, his brother Sam — a first stage casualty in Galway — will need little motivation.

There are so many interesting facets to the rally such as how British Rally champion Matt Edwards in the M-Sport Fiesta R5 will figure against the ITRC regulars. A fascinating top ten also features the Skoda Fabia R5s of former winner Robert Barrable, Desi Henry, and David Bogie along with Declan Boyle (Fiesta R5). 

So many others that would normally feature in the top ten like Marty McCormack (Skoda Fabia R5), Tom Cave (Hyundai i20 R5), Callum Devine, Jonny Greer, Daniel Cronin, and Stephen Wright — all in Fiesta R5s — and Manus Kelly (Hyundai i20R5) are all well capable of setting strong times. Among Hirvonen’s opposition in the two-wheel drive category are the Escort pair of Gary Kiernan and Damien Tourish and John Dalton (Darrian). The ceremonial start in Pearse Street is at 8pm.

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