While not dining at the top table of the World Rally Championship, Craig Breen has opted to sample the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
The Waterford driver heads the entry for Sunday’s Corrib Oil Galway International Rally, one of the highest quality of any Irish rally in recent times.
In Galway he campaigns the CJJ Motorsports liveried Ford Fiesta R5. The general expectation is that he should be about a second a kilometre faster than the field.
However, Breen, who has Killarney’s Paul Nagle as his co-driver, refutes such a view: “No, not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s been a long time since I have driven properly back at home, I know it’s my job, but it’s a long time since I have been in an R5 car.” Breen admits a WRC return is the priority. “I am hopeful that something will materialise.”
Earlier this week he was karting in Italy along with a number of Formula 1 drivers, and while it is a different avenue, it appears Breen has some options at European and World level.
Fermanagh’s Garry Jennings (Subaru WRC), who won the Galway Rally in 2017 is the only World Car in the top ten. As always, conditions play a major role in Galway and Jennings excels in muddy and wet terrain.
Reigning Tarmac champion Monaghan’s Josh Moffett, his brother Sam along with Fermanagh’s Alastair Fisher and Donegal’s Declan Boyle, all in Fiesta R5’s, are next off the start line.
Fisher makes a welcome return and while his potential is not in question, this season may provide that elusive first Tarmac title.
Boyle makes his R5 debut as will fellow county man Donagh Kelly, albeit in a Skoda Fabia R5.
Up until now, they campaigned World Cars and a comparison with Moffett et al wasn’t possible; Sunday’s nine stages will provide the real answer.
Others like Desi Henry (Skoda Fabia R5) and Jon Armstrong (Ford Fiesta R5) cannot be overlooked, with the latter well capable of springing a surprise.
Another R5 debutant, Donegal’s Manus Kelly switches to a Hyundai i20 R5.
Elsewhere, Donegal’s Joe McGonigle (Mini WRC), Belfast’s Jonny Greer and Ballylickey’s Daniel Cronin in Fiesta R5’s and Welsh ace Meirion Evans (Hyundai i20 R5) start outside the top ten frame.
The impressive entry also features Niall Maguire (Subaru WRC), Cathal McCourt (Ford Fiesta R5), Stephen Wright (Ford Fiesta R5), Stephen McCann (Ford Fiesta R5) and Philip Allen (Skoda Fabia R5) and Cork’s David Guest (Skoda Fabia S2000).
Louth’s Brendan Cumiskey (Skoda Fabia R5) and Rathcoole’s Aaron MacHale (Hyundai i20 R5) have right-hand variants and while they are eligible to score championship points, they cannot feature in the International or national finishers lists and are restricted to Class 24.
Fastnet Rally winner Damien Tourish (Ford Escort) is the leading modified entry and opposition will be provided by the similar Mk. 2 Escorts Damian Toner, David Condell, Stuart Darcy, Tom Flaherty and Mark Alcorn along with Raymond Conlon (Toyota Corolla).
The day’s action that begins with Attymon (S.S.1 at 9.14am) features a loop of three stages repeated three times with the service park at the Athenry Mart Complex.