Meanwhile, the Dulux Trade British Rally Championship that begins with Rallye Sunseeker in Poole tomorrow has a strong Irish presence, spearheaded by Craig Breen (Ford Fiesta R2).
In attracting an entry in excess of 150 crews, the Birr and District Motor Club deserve great credit. It also highlights the popularity of the Dunlop series, where the input of the championship committee is key.
A year ago, Evans was just testing the water as far as his championship ambitions were concerned. Indeed, his plan was to sample a few of the national events as a prelude to a full assault this year. However, it all turned out so different as the popular Welshman became the first ever overseas driver to win the Dunlop series. How he will fare against McNulty will be one of the many issues that will be decided on Sunday’s nine-stage event. McNulty will relish the battle after his victory in the Galway International Rally. The Meath driver will also compete in the second round in Monaghan before deciding which campaign — national or international — he will embark on for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, with just a solitary victory in last year’s Dunlop series, former triple Dunlop champion, Niall Maguire (Subaru WRC) will endeavour to land a somewhat elusive fourth crown — given that he has finished runner-up on some eight previous occasions. Another regular, Kevin Barrett, in yet another Subaru WRC, had a disappointing start last year with retirement on the opening round and then being denied victory on the second round by virtue of a tie-break. With his own expectations of having a pace that will be close to the World Rally Car brigade, the presence of Derek McGarrity (Mitsubishi EvoX) will be watched with interest. The fact that former Tarmac showroom champion, Limerick’s Colm Murphy (Subaru N12B), will start directly behind the Antrim ace will add some spice to the contest that will also feature former national and Tarmac Group N champion, Kevin Kelleher (Mitsubishi).
Dunmanway’s Liam McCarthy (Toyota Corolla WRC) along with Declan Boyle and Wesley Patterson, both in Ford Escorts, and James Stafford (Darrian) are all seeded in the top 10. Elsewhere, Mike Quinn, Camillus Bradley, Pat Donegan, Neil Williams and Trevor Mulligan, all in Ford Escorts, are a further illustration of the quality.
Overseas drivers, James Belton (Subaru WRC) and Steve Simpson (Subaru WRC) are sampling the Irish series with a view to contesting the entire campaign. The fact that current Group N champion, Sean Flanagan (Subaru) is seeded at 19 and Top Part champion, Shane Maguire (Subaru) occupies the number 27 berth, reflects the high quality of the entry that also features the Mitsubishis of Pat Kirk and Thomas Fitzmaurice and Subaru duo, Stephen Cullen and Ian Barrett. Other entries are Aidan Bourke (Mitsubishi) and Tommy Doyle (Renault Clio R3). The opening stage at Harristown is at 10am, servicing is at the Retail Outlet, Rathdowney with the finish at the Manor Hotel at 4.45pm.
Tomorrow, Waterford’s Craig Breen is the leading entry in the 11-stage Rallye Sunseeker, the opening round of the British Rally Championship as he acclimatises to his Fiesta R2 ahead of the first round of the WRC Academy series in Portugal at the end of March. It will be the first time in almost a year and half that he will pilot a front-wheel drive car. Finland’s, Mikko Pajunen (Renault Twingo) is seeded at two while Mark Donnelly Citroen (C2R2) and Mollie Taylor (Fiesta) are amongst the top 10. Elsewhere, the entry includes David Bogie (Mitsubishi), Elfyn Evans (Subaru) and Danny Barry (Mitsubishi). Both Jonny Greer and Robert Barrable will debut their recently-acquired Skoda Fabia S2000s. From 2012, the series will be based on two-wheel drive cars. The Omagh Motor Club’s Fivemiletown Spring Rally also takes place tomorrow.
Valvoline National Forestry Rally Championship leader, Owen Murphy, has entered for next week’s second round, the Willie Loughman Carrick on Suir Forest Rally. The event will take place on Saturday (March 5) with three stages in the afternoon and three more in darkness. Craig Breen (Fiesta R2) and Andrew Purcell (Mitsubishi) will also compete.