However, tomorrow’s Sligo Rally, round six of the campaign, offers them another opportunity to close in on the current leader. While his Subaru WRC wasn’t re-fettled in time for round five in Kilkenny, his absence in Sligo is because his co-driver, Paul Kiely is the clerk of the course for the Sligo town-based event.
With half of the series concluded, McNulty is 26 points ahead of his closest rival, Sam Moffett with Robert Barrable two points further adrift.
Irrespective of what happens in Sligo, where 20 points are on offer for the top Dunlop contender, McNulty will retain top spot.
Barrable (Skoda Fabia s2000), a driver very much in form, is the top seed and is expected to edge closer to McNulty. However, he is likely to miss the seventh round on Galway.
Nevertheless, the entry for Sligo is very competitive and should be well contested. The Subaru WRC pair of Glengormley’s Derek McGarrity and Midleton’s Daragh O’Riordan add an extra competitive edge to the Dunlop brigade.
McGarrity is utilising the rally as a shakedown for next month’s Ulster rally, the penultimate round of the Irish Tarmac Championship. For O’Riordan, it will be an opportunity to turn the tables on Barrable. In the West Cork Rally, he lost out by a fraction of second as Barrable took his first major victory. They also went head to head in Monaghan where Barrable was third and O’Riordan fourth.
Former Dunlop champion, Niall Maguire and Kevin Barrett, who were absentees in Kilkenny return to Dunlop action in Sligo, although their title bids are well diluted, they remain loyal to the national campaign.
Meanwhile, Fermanagh’s, Garry Jennings (Mitsubishi) will provide a fine barometer in the showroom category and he is also a contender for a podium spot in Sligo.
In the race for the Motorsport Safety Team Group N award, that includes the Subaru of Colm Murphy, Sam Moffett (Mitsubishi) and Barrable, points will be crucial.
As ever, the entry in the modified section is ultra competitive. Lisburn’s Wesley Patterson (Ford Escort) will be expected to set the pace against Washington James (Darrian), who actually heads the rally.ie series within the Dunlop National Rally Championship. Damien Gallagher, Frank Kelly, Sam Smyth, John McGettrick, Michael Conlon, John McQuaid, Michael Curran, Arthur Kierans and Daniel Conaghan, all in Ford Escorts, Dominic McLoughlin (Peugeot 205) and Lloyd Hutchinson (Mini) provide strong opposition.
Having returned to rallying on the last round in Kilkenny, Clonmel’s Roy White (MG S2000) pledged to compete in all the remaining rounds. The first of the nine stages begins at 9.36am tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow evening, the Cork Autotest at the Cork builders providers complex in Togher, begins at 5.30pm. Events on Sunday include the Imokilly Autotest at the Owenacurra Business Park, Midleton (11am); the Leinster MC Sporting Trial at Belmont, Delgany, Wicklow starts at noon and the Galway Autocross at Gort (12.45pm).
The Donegal Forest Rally, the fourth round of the Valvoline Irish Forest Championship, that was due to take place on Saturday July 23, has been postponed. According to a statement issued by the event organisers, Donegal Motor Club, it appears that the forests over which the stages were to run are currently unavailable.
“The worst series of gorse and forest fires ever seen swept through County Donegal earlier this year, laying waste to thousands of hectares of Coillte and other property,” said clerk of the course, Michael Kelly.
“Normal forestry operations were suspended and have had to be rescheduled, thereby affecting the planned date for rally.
Currently, Tipperary’s Liam Ryan and Monaghan’s Vincent McAree share the lead with Cork ace, Owen Murphy 11 points behind in third.