The Irish Tarmac Rally Championship begins on Sunday’s Corrib Oil Galway International Rally with a top ten that showcases three variants of R5 cars.
The event goes ahead after financial support was received privately and from the sport’s governing body Motorsport Ireland as the Galway club faced significant financial losses due to the lack of entries.
Around 60 crews (the intended target was 100) are likely to start the nine stages around Loughrea where former Irish Tarmac champion, Fermanagh’s Garry Jennings, is the sole World Rally Car exponent within the top ten and only eligible for an event win — drivers of World Rally Cars cannot score overall championship points.
For the rest of the top ten, it’s the serious business of the Irish Tarmac series. 2019 champion Craig Breen is an absentee as earlier this week the Waterford man got the call from Hyundai Motorsport to compete (along with his co-driver Paul Nagle) in Rally Sweden.
There was also good news for another Irish Tarmac regular, Derry’s Callum Devine, who has been selected to join the Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing Junior Driver initiative and will also ply his trade on foreign soil.
Breen added to the ITRC last year but he didn’t have it all his own way. His presence highlighted the emerging talent of fellow Irish drivers and on Sunday many of them including Enniskillen’s Alistair Fisher will showcase their skills.
Fisher, who makes his debut in a Dom Buckley Motorsport VW Polo GTi R5, has yet to claim a maiden victory in a round of the ITRC. Others in the same type of car are Donegal’s Donagh Kelly, who won the Fastnet Rally last year while Welsh ace Meirion Evans is also in VW Polo debut mode.
There are also three Hyundai i20 R5’s in the top ten with Monaghan brothers Josh and Sam Moffett and Antrim’s Desi Henry. From holding seven slots in last year’s top ten, the Ford Fiesta R5 contingent is down to three, with Tyrone’s Cathan McCourt, Ballylickey’s Daniel Cronin and Donegal’s Joe McGonigle, the latter in the latest Mk. 2 version, flying the flag for the Blue Oval.
The R5 contingent is almost in double figures with Fiesta R5 drivers like Monaghan’s Stephen Wright, Maynooth’s Paul Barrett, Limerick’s Keith Lyons and Dunmanway’s David Guest, who makes his category debut, all looking to make inroads to the top ten. Others such as five times ITRC champion Eugene Donnelly (Proton lriz R5) and Clonakilty’s Cal McCarthy (Citroen DS3R5) will have a similar mission.
Cashel’s Pat O’Connell (Mitsubishi EvoIX) is one of the main contenders in the national category that includes Eugene Meegan (Mitsubishi EvoIX), Richard Whelan (BMW 1 Series), Armagh’s Jason Black (Toyota Starlet), local Galway driver Tom Flaherty (Ford Escort) and Oldcastle’s Gary McNamee (Honda Civic). Tomorrow night’s ceremonial start is at Eyre Square at 7.30pm with Sunday’s first stage at 9.20am.