There is no real explanation why the Carlton Hotel Circuit of Kerry is one of the most hotly contested events in Irish rallying. On four occasions in recent times the rally has ended in a tie-break situation and three have involved current leader of the Dunlop National Rally Championship, Niall Maguire.
Sunday’s eight-stage event is the third round of the Dunlop campaign and the second round of the Top Part West Coast Rally Championship. Already, the Dunlop campaign is shaping up to be a battle between Maguire, Kevin Barrett, Thomas Fitzmaurice and Brian O’Mahony — all in S11 Subaru WRC’s.
Local driver Thomas Fitzmaurice has made a terrific start to the Dunlop series — victory in the opening round in Abbeyleix and a magnificent recovery to claim fifth in Claremorris. The Abbeydorney man is the top seed and could become the first Kerry-born driver to win the rally since its inception in 1981.
Meanwhile, Kevin Barrett knows what it’s like to be denied victory in Kerry. Just two years ago, he lost on a tie-break with Derek McGarrity but showed good form in Claremorris and victory in the Kingdom is possible provided everything goes right.
Series’ leader, Niall Maguire is always a threat in the Kingdom as he tries for a record fourth title.
For O’Mahony and with the Dunlop series counting the best six from eight events, Kerry is a key rally. The Cork driver can point to tyre choice as a factor in having to settle for second in Abbeyleix — his retirement from the second round when his Subaru caught fire, has brought some unwanted pressure at this point of the season.
Meanwhile, Limerick’s Colm Murphy (Subaru) is the barometer in the Group N category. He will endeavour to secure a strong result in the quest for the Motorsport Safety Team Group N award. The showroom opposition includes the Mitsubishi trio of Kevin Kelleher, Josh Moffett and Mark Donnelly and Shane Maguire (Subaru).
In the Modified category, local driver Mike Quinn will have to be on his guard against the likes of Frank Kelly, Declan Boyle, John McQuaid and Jonathan Pringle. Based at the Carlton Hotel, the first stage at Headley’s Bridge begins at 9.21am.
Heading into last night’s final pair of stages in the Vodafone Rally de Portugal, the fourth round of the WRC, there was a dramatic development when Sebastien Loeb (Citroen) slid his Citroen off the road on the third stage. Earlier, Petter Solberg (Citroen) was quickest on the spectator special in Lisbon and was a fraction of a second ahead of Loeb. The Norwegian was also fastest on S.S. 2 and led his Ford team mate Jari Matti Latvala by 2.2 seconds.
In the S-WRC, pre-event series leader Craig Breen (Fiesta S2000) was quickest in the category over the stage in Lisbon where Tyrone’s Alastair Fisher, contesting the WRC Academy series, was only 2.4 seconds behind category leader, Australian, Brenda Reeves.
Cork racer Matt Griffin (29) will be hoping to continue his winning run when he tackles the 6 Hours of Le Castellet in the South of France on Sunday. The Northampton-based driver steps up to the GTE-Am category in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) with the Championship-winning Italian team, AF Corse. He’ll be with Piergiuseppe Perazzini and Marco Cioci.
On the home front, the season kicks off at the Kirkistown circuit tomorrow.
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