Last year he wrapped up the crown within the opening six rounds – five of which he won. Although he started this season in fine fashion with wins in Ballina and Tralee he missed the third round in Carlow as his championship-winning S12B Subaru WRC wasn’t re-fettled in time after crashing out of the lead in the Rally of the Lakes. His outing in the fourth round was blitzed with several problems and he failed to finish.
The Dunlop series is based on the best six results from eight events so, in essence, Boyle has now dropped his two rounds and must take significant points from the remaining four, including Sunday’s encounter in Clonmel to say in the hunt. He trails current leader, Paddy McVeigh, by 20 points – the latter has scored consistently in all four rounds to date.
It’s a case of one event at a time for Boyle, however. While his form suggests he is still the favourite, reliability will still be the most important ingredient as the series enters the second half of the season. It’s a somewhat similar situation for Welsh ace Hugh Hunter (Subaru) who failed to finish in Ballina and the Circuit of Munster but was second in Kerry and won in Carlow and is two points behind Boyle.
McVeigh and British driver Steve Wood head the Dunlop table, albeit separated by a five-point margin. Clonmel’s Roy White (MG ZR) is third in the series and is hoping to secure another top three series finish. A fine entry also includes Midleton’s Darragh O’Riordan (Ford Fiesta WRC) and Donegal’s Donagh Kelly (Ford Focus WRC). Without the shackles of championship points both drivers can attack from the start. With two outings in the Mel Evans S12B Subaru Kerry’s Alan Ring will be keen to continue an upward spiral that has delivered the runner-up spot in the Rally of the Lakes in Killarney and the Raven’s Rock Rally in Waterford. Although seeded in the top 10 there is a slight doubt about Clonakilty’s Kevin Kelleher (Subaru WRC) taking his place on the entry.
The top 10 also includes Maynooth’s Kevin Barrett (Subaru WRC), a regular Dunlop participant, but who hasn’t enjoyed the best of fortune. Elsewhere, there are places for Eoin Doyle (Ford Focus WRC) and Michael O’Brien (Ford Focus WRC).
A strong rear wheel drive contingent will be headed by Wexford’s James Stafford (Darrian T90) and if conditions remain dry he is very capable of interloping amongst the WRC brigade. Meanwhile, there is an impressive plethora of Mk. 2 Escorts in the hands of Gary Kiernan, Frank Kelly, Jonathan Pringle, Mickey Conlon, Mickey Curran, Sam Smyth, James Coleman and Vivian Hamill.
Josh Moffett (Mitsubishi) is the leading exponent in the Group N category and should provide the barometer for Shane Maguire, Gus Kearney and Killarney’s Derek Daly, who debuts the ex-Alan Ring Mitsubishi. Based at the Clonmel Park Hotel, the first car away is at 9am. The service park is based at Powerstown Racecourse.
The Irish contingent in tomorrow’s Neath Valley Historic Rally, the penultimate round of the RAC West Wales Rally Spares Historic Rally Championship, includes Galwegian Ray Cunningham (Mini Cooper S) and Cork’s Owen Murphy (Sunbeam Lotus), who are fifth and ninth overall respectively. Murphy will be co-driven by north Cork’s James O’Brien, who will return overnight to partner Roy White in Clonmel on Sunday. The six-stage event begins from the Rheola Estate.
International Porsche driver, Damien Faulkner from Moville is relishing Sunday’s Road America/Continental Tyre Road Race in Wisconsin where he’ll be partnered by Ben Barker in the GB Autosport run car.