MARTIN WALSH: Morrow leaves it late in Limerick

The West Limerick Forest Rally, the opening round of the Valvoline Irish Forest Rally Championship, ended with a dramatic final stage victory for County Down’s, Philip Morrow and co-driver, Johnny Hart.

Driving a Mitsubishi Evo IX, they overcame an 8.4 second deficit to edge out long time leaders, Michael O’Brien/Greg Shinnors (Ford Focus WRC) by 1.4 seconds. The Cork crew of Owen Murphy/James O’Brien (Mitsubishi) were 4.5 seconds behind in third.

O’Brien set the pace on the opening stage where Murphy was 0.4 of a second behind with Monaghan’s Vincent McAree (Mitsubishi) a second behind Murphy. It was similarly close on the second stage with O’Brien again quickest — on this occasion he was eighth tenths of a second faster than Murphy to lead by 1.2 seconds. Morrow, on his first outing in some two years and his first southern Irish forest event in a decade, slotted into third – 5.6 seconds off the lead.

Martin Cairns (Subaru) was followed by former champion, Pat O’Connell (Mitsubishi), who admitted he lacked commitment. Cork’s Gerard Lucey had a brief outing when he slid his Mitsubishi off just a mile into the stage. James Coleman (Escort) was another to experience a short event — he was forced to retire when the gear lever snapped.

Meanwhile, Shane McGirr (Toyota Starlet) led the two wheel drive category that ran at the head of the field in reverse order. McGirr was 2.2 seconds clear of the Escort of Seamus O’Connell with Michael Conlon (Escort) third.

Out on the third stage, O’Brien stretched his lead over Murphy to 7.9 seconds and seemed on course for victory as Morrow cut the deficit to Murphy to half a second.

Then, in a dramatic final throw of the dice, Morrow pulled out all the stops and set the best time for the final stage. It was enough to give the 2008 Mitsubishi Evo Challenge winner the spoils and maximum points on the Valvoline opener.

O’Brien had to be content with a runner-up spot. The Mitsubishi of third-placed Owen Murphy kept jumping out of fifth gear and admitted he was lucky to have finished. McAree pushed hard en-route to fourth followed by Cairns and O’Connell. McGirr netted the two-wheel drive category – 2.9 seconds in front of O’Connell with Conlon third. Galway’s Dean Raftery (Honda Civic) and Cork co-driver Aileen Kelly won the Junior category.

Meanwhile, in Rally Sweden, the second round of the World Rally Championship, Sebastien Ogier gave Volkswagen Motorsport their first victory in a World Championship rally. The 29-year-old French ace, on board the new Polo R World Rally Car, finished 41.8 seconds ahead of the Citroen DS3 of Sebastien Loeb. Mads Ostberg (Ford Fiesta) was a further 42.7 seconds behind in third. Ogier took the lead on S.S. 2 on Friday and during Saturday’s leg, managed to keep Loeb (Citroen) at bay by setting three fastest stage times. Loeb, also set three fastest times but his Citroen had some understeer. Matthew Wilson rolled his Fiesta during Saturday’s stages while Khalid Al Qassimi retired after he hit a log pile and damaged the radiator.

In Chepstow, Northern Ireland’s Connor McCloskey, driving an ex-Petter Solberg Subaru WRC, clinched victory on the final stage of the Wyedean Rally beating early leaders, David Wright (Mitsubishi) and Euan Thorburn (Ford Focus WRC), who retired with mechanical troubles. Welsh driver, Paul Bird (Ford Focus WRC) took a start to finish victory on the Legend Fires North West Rally. He finished a minute and 26 seconds in front of former winner Kevin Procter (Subaru WRC). Cork racer, Matt Griffin along with Craig Baird and Mok Weng Sung in their Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 finished second in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour in Australia.

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