The fifth round of the Dunlop National Rally Championship proved costly for five of the top 10 starters and severely dented the title hopes of Dunlop champion Declan Boyle and fellow title hopeful Hugh Hunter.
At the finish, O’Riordan, who ran his Ford Fiesta in Class 20 to avail of a 34mm restrictor, finished 44.4 seconds in front of the Darrian T90 of Wexford’s James Stafford/Amy Ryan.
Third overall, albeit a minute and 17.4 seconds further behind, was Welsh ace Steve Wood (Subaru WRC) and his Limerick co-driver Keith Moriarty, a result good enough to promote them into the lead of the Dunlop series.
Heavy overnight rain led to slippery conditions for the three-stage loop. Boyle (Subaru WRC) began well and was quickest on the opening stage to lead fellow Donegal driver Donagh Kelly (Ford Focus WRC) by 1.1secs with Hugh Hunter (Subaru WRC) 10.3secs behind in third and O’Riordan fourth — 12.2secs off the lead. The Midleton man backed off for a few kilometres due to a vibration in the Fiesta.
Boyle retired on SS2 due to problems with an input shaft, his successor, Kelly, had a brief sojourn and bowed out after completing the third stage as his Ford Focus WRC overheated. By then, pre-event Dunlop series leader Paddy McVeigh (Subaru WRC), ninth on the opening stage, had retired with gear selection difficulties while London-based Cork driver Michael O’Brien was also gone when his Ford Focus WRC took to the Tipperary scenery.
Although Kelly was still classified as he had finished the third stage, in reality O’Riordan led by 44.9 seconds with Stafford his closest rival. Wood was next but an altercation with a bale resulted in a time loss and he was 50.1secs off top spot. Kerry’s Alan Ring had plenty of drama — twice he stalled the hired Melvyn Evans S12B Subaru WRC on one stage and he was also off the road, albeit briefly, on the third stage. The drama continued as Hunter punctured and lost over four minutes and dropped to 40th position.
On the second loop, O’Riordan dictated the pace and without taking any chances led Stafford by 54.2secs. Wood was third.
It seemed there was no end to the rate of attrition as Ring succumbed to the elements. O’Riordan went on to claim victory with Stafford and Wood completing the top three.
Meanwhile, the two Irish crews involved in Saturday’s Neath Valley Historic Rally, the penultimate round of the West Rally Spares RAC Historic Rally Championship, had difficult outings.
Galway’s Ray Cunningham/Aaron Forde (Mini Cooper S) finished second in their class after losing two gears on the final few stages. Cork’s Owen Murphy and James O’Brien retired early when their Sunbeam Lotus developed an electrical malady. The event was won by Nick Elliott (Ford Escort).
Five-times Irish Tarmac champion Eugene Donnelly has secured a late deal with Lakeland Tyres that will allow him contest this weekend’s Todds Leap Ulster Rally in the Kenny McKinstry S14 Subaru WRC.