Already shaping up to be a good contest between the Subaru S11 quartet of Dunlop regulars Kevin Barrett and Niall Maguire and newcomers, Thomas Fitzmaurice and Brian O’Mahony, the Dunlop National Rally Championship continues on Sunday with the Claremorris based McWilliam Park Hotel/Fleet Transport Magazine Mayo Rally.
The nine stages around Kiltimagh and Balla will be keenly contested and while Fitzmaurice and O’Mahony had the upper hand in Abbeyleix, the situation should be more fluid in Mayo.
Barrett is the top seed as he won last year’s rally when he finished 51 seconds ahead of Maguire. The stages are in the same location and that will give them a slight advantage.
“I picked the wrong tyres for the opening loop in Abbeyleix and when you drop that kind of time there is no way back,” said Barrett.
“What we saw there is that Thomas [Fitzmaurice] has adapted to the car very well while we all knew that Brian [O’Mahony] would be quick.”
Mayo offers Maguire a quick opportunity to make amends for a puncture that spoiled his chances in Abbeyleix. Having won the opening round, the surprise element is gone for Dunlop-leader Fitzmaurice. With all four in S11s, it is possibly the most even contest in recent years.
Mayo is an important round for all concerned but the other trio will try and keep Fitzmaurice at bay given the third round is in his native Kerry.
“It won’t be easy, the stages in Abbeyleix suited me, if Sunday’s stages are technical, then Kevin [Barrett] and Niall [Maguire] will be hard to beat, they are familiar with the one-day events. I was surprised with myself in Abbeyleix. I knew Brian [O’Mahony] was going to be quick and to be honest, tyre choice cost him the rally. You can be sure that won’t happen again,” said Fitzmaurice.
Having finished second on the opening round, O’Mahony benefited from the experience and is now much more in tune with the S11. The Carrigaline ace reckons both Maguire and Barrett will be much more of a threat in Mayo, however.
Omagh’s Seamus Leonard (Subaru WRC) may take a few stages to adjust to the pace. Although seeded at number five, former Dunlop champion Aaron MacHale, who was expected to drive a ’03 Ford Focus has withdrawn as the car will not be ready.
The Modified entry is very strong with Monaghan’s Daniel McKenna in the best form. Tyrone’s Frank Kelly was the pick of the bunch in Abbeyleix and it will be interesting to see how his pace compares with McKenna’s. Former champion Declan Boyle is also on the top 10 start list as is Clonmel’s Roy White (MG S2000). The first stage begins at 9.33am.
Meanwhile, Craig Breen has announced an extended rallying programme that will see the him drive a Saintéloc Racing prepared Peugeot 207 S2000 in at least four rounds of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge beginning with next month’s Circuit of Ireland Rally. Under the Saintéloc IRC Junior Team banner, the team will also be assisted by Peugeot Sport.
Breen will also tackle the Tour de Corse, Geko Ypres Rally and Hungary’s Mecsek Rally as he dovetails the IRC rounds with his attempt to land the S-WRC crown: “We have a lot of work, but I really hope to be able to fight for the podium.”
Frenchman, Mathieu Arzeno is the second driver and Florian Gonon will join the team for three rallies. Testing is planned in France for March 20.
Midleton’s Daragh O’Riordan (Subaru WRC) is the top seed for next week’s Quality Hotel West Cork Rally in Clonakilty. The remainder of the top 10 is: Colm Murphy (Subaru); Kevin Kelleher (Mitsubishi); Alan Ring (Mitsubishi); John Dalton (Darrian); James Stafford (Darrian); Damien McCarthy (Honda Civic); Peter Lloyd (Subaru WRC); John Cope (Subaru WRC) and Leonard Downey (Ford Escort).
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