YOUNG guns, Keith Cronin, 23, and Craig Breen, 20, represent the changing demographic of Irish rallying as the Citroen Irish Tarmac Championship gets underway tomorrow with the Safety Direct Galway International Rally.
Over the coming months they will see plenty of each other as they will also contest the British Rally Championship. However, of more immediate concern is their programme in the Tarmac series that is boosted by the support of Citroen.
Through 14 special stages in Galway, they will mix it with the regulars of the Irish Tarmac Championship in a battle that could prove fascinating to say the least.
Gone is the almost complete top 10 lock-out of WRCs as the Group N contingent, aided by the change in regulations that allows a 33mm restrictor, bid to become more of a threat to their rivals.
Top seeds, Gareth MacHale and Brian Murphy are one of the few combinations that are unchanged and having won the final round of the 2009 campaign, are favourites to make the perfect start. The Dubliner will use his 2006 specification Ford Focus WRC as he aims for his first triumph in the west where his father, Austin, was victorious on six occasions.
With Tim McNulty following directly behind, MacHale will need to set a strong pace right from the start.
Meath ace, McNulty (Subaru) is one of several drivers with a new co-driver (Eugene O’Donnell) and no matter what level, it takes time to adjust to a new partnership.
Cronin wheels out his British Championship winning Mitsubishi Evo9 as he acclimatises to the note calling of new co-driver, Barry McNulty, who will partner Cronin in both the Irish and British Championships. Cronin was a convincing winner of a national event in 2009 and will be expected to be very close to the top two seeds.
Having finished fourth in Galway last year, Aaron MacHale (Ford Focus WRC) will expect a higher position on this occasion, however, the former Dunlop National champion will have to push hard to achieve his goal. Patrick Elliott (Subaru) has withdrawn his entry, meanwhile, another national championship regular, Kevin Barrett, who won last season’s Galway Summer Rally, will be keen to secure a strong finish.
On almost every event last year, Fermanagh’s, Alistair Fisher (Mitsubishi) showed an increase in pace as he made the successful switch from the Fiesta ST to a Mitsubishi Evo9. With Rory Kennedy alongside him, Fisher should be closer to the likes of Cronin and, Garry Jennings, who debuts an ex-ADR Evo9.
Mikko Hirvonen’s debut victory with the Ford Fiesta S2000 in Monte Carlo heightens the expectations as Craig Breen gives the car its Irish debut. The Billy Coleman award winner is buoyed by the power and stability of his new car and is eagerly awaiting the contest. Meanwhile, Galwegian, Mike Bird is trusted with upholding local honour. Elsewhere, the entry features Group N aces, Richard Cathcart, Alan Ring, Jer O’Donovan, Anthony O’Halloran, Jonathan Greer.
Eamonn Daly and Sean Flanagan. Escort pair, Daniel McKenna and Barry Meade top the modified entry. The inaugural Citroen Racing Trophy Ireland series for Citroen C2R2 and C2R2 Max competitors has generated a great response with a 14 strong entry that includes Andrew Bushe (C2 S1600), British C2 champion Martin McCormack, Irish C2 champion, Adrian McElhinney, Mark Kane, Andrew Hockridge, Joe McGonigle and Robert Barrable all chasing the major share of the €19,600 prize fund. The event also incorporates the Fiesta SportTrophy (FST) Ireland series.
This evening’s ceremonial start in Oranmore village takes place at 7.30pm. Tomorrow’s opening stage is at 8.55am. Servicing throughout the two days is in Oranmore with rally headquarters at the Clayton Hotel, Ballybrit.
The Irish Rallycross Championship resumes in Mondello Park on Sunday with the fifth round encounter. Series leader, Tommy Graham in his Ford Fiesta Supercar has a three-point advantage over reigning champion, Michael Coyne (Vauxhall Nova). Graham has taken four wins from four in the Supercar division. Practice begins at 9.15am with the heats at 10.15am and the first of the various finals starting at 3.30pm.
Elsewhere, the Skibbereen 100 Isles Navigation Trial is a counting round of the National and Munster Navigation Championships and the TMC Windows Skibbereen club series. Based at the Lisavaird Community Centre near Clonakilty, the first car away is at 11.30pm tomorrow night. The Wexford Autotest at the Kiltorcan Kart Track in Ballyhale, Co. Kilkenny starts at noon on Sunday.
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