Competitors in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship and the British Rally Championship will traverse the same stages under their respective banners of the Ulster Rally and Rally Northern Ireland this afternoon.
In Rally Northern Ireland, Keith Cronin — in his Asquith Motorsport run Citroen DS3, can close the gap to his British Rally Championship rivals Tom Cave (Citroen DS3) and Elfyn Evans (Fiesta R2). Just two points in arrears, Cronin could even move ahead in a quest for a third British title: “I don’t have to go all out, I will see what the pace is like,” he said.
The Ballylickey driver should have too much pace and experience for Cave and Evans, although the latter will be full of confidence following his WRC Academy win in Rally Finland. Northern Ireland’s Mark Donnelly (Renault Clio R3) is the one most likely to be closest to Cronin.
Former BRC winner, Guy Wilks will debut the Twingo Renaultsport R2 car with Mallow’s David Moynihan calling the notes.
Having debuted a Citroen DS3 on last week’s Tipperary Stonethrowers Rally, Longford’s Tommy Doyle will be intent on making significant progress and has Millstreet’s Liam Moynihan on co-driving duty. Dessi Henry and Jonny Greer are also DS3 mounted while Robert Barrable will drive a C2R2 model. Craig Breen/Paul Nagle will give the Peugeot 207 its debut as one of the 00 cars.
The start, service park and finish are all based at the Junction 1 outlet centre in Antrim and there are six stages in total today.
In the ITC, the Ulster Rally section contains the title contenders amongst its World Rally Car dominated entry. Series leader, Armagh’s Darren Gass (S10 Subaru WRC) is eight points ahead of his only title rival, Garry Jennings.
Other ITC campaigners Derek McGarrity and Daragh O’Riordan are still eligible to score championship points and could play a crucial role if they split the title-chasing duo. Jennings will drive a McKinstry hired S10 Subaru WRC. Despite McGarrity’s expected dominance on home ground, it would not be surprising to see Jennings at the front. With extra points on offer for overnight and final positions at the Cork 20 International Rally with a 1.5 co-efficient there is a maximum of 52 points still on offer. The battle between Gass and Jennings has certainly raised the tempo of the series.
Home hero McGarrity lost out in agonising circumstances last year after Tim McNulty’s late surge denied the Glengormley man of another Ulster victory. Ironically, he has since acquired last year’s winning car, but this is likely to be his final outing in the car that seems certain to be acquired by Donegal’s Declan Boyle after the rally.
Acknowledging his withdrawal from the Donegal International Rally was a trifle hasty, Midleton’s Daragh O’Riordan (S12B Subaru) is now just intent on giving a good account of himself in Antrim.
“I’m out of the championship, so it’s about a bit of enjoyment now. I still want to be competitive there. I have never done that well on the Ulster so it’s a personal thing in that respect.”
Steve Perez (Ford Focus WRC) is also Ulster bound as are the Mitsubishi quartet of Sam Moffett, Josh Moffett, Stephen Wright and Willie Mavitty.
The Phoenix Park Motor Races take place tomorrow (12.45pm) and Sunday (9.50am); the Skibbereen Autotest double header is at 5.30pm tomorrow and 11am on Sunday; Monaghan Endurance Trial (Sunday) has a 10.30am start from Threemilehouse and the Irish Karting Club’s C Plate is at Whiteriver Park, Collon, County Louth.
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