ALTHOUGH Gareth MacHale (Ford Focus WRC) leads the Citroen Irish Tarmac Championship and is the best placed of four drivers to win the title, he is also the driver under most pressure ahead of this weekend’s final round, the Cork ‘20’ International Rally.
The Dubliner, who won in Cork last year, requires a top three championship finish to secure his inaugural Tarmac title but insists he will not play the percentage game. “I want to win the rally, to be fastest on the stages. In that way, you are more alert. There is pressure on us (himself and co-driver, Brian Murphy), the championship is ours to lose.”
The trio in his championship slipstream include his own brother, Aaron, Alastair Fisher and Craig Breen. With the event featuring classic tests such as Mullaghanish, Mushera, Kilnamartyra, Fuhiry and Lough Allua, MacHale added: “These are great stages and I am really looking forward to them.”
Of course MacHale and Fisher battles are nothing new in Irish rallying. In 1983, Austin MacHale won the Cork ‘20’ and the Irish Tarmac title and did likewise in 1985, while the late Bertie Fisher won the Cork ‘20’ on his way to championship success in 1992. The second generation sees both Gareth and Aaron MacHale battle with Alastair Fisher, a nephew of the late Bertie Fisher.
In contrast to his British Championship bid, Alastair’s ITC campaign has been consistent. Campaigning a Group N Mitsubishi, the Fermanagh driver, who has scored in very round, has also benefited from the introduction of bonus points for the showroom category.
Currently, he trails Gareth MacHale by four points. Were dropped scores taken into account, the margin becomes 11 points, however, with the Cork event offering 50% bonus points, Fisher can secure the title by taking maximum points with Gareth MacHale fourth or lower. Like Fisher, Aaron MacHale has also scored in all rounds thus far and he is three points further behind.
“There is no doubt, Gareth is under more pressure, he can only lose, none of us are expected to win the championship. My season has been up and down, good results in Galway and Killarney but not so good elsewhere, I will go as hard as I can. If Gareth wins, then I would like to be second,” said Aaron.
Meanwhile, Craig Breen, with one non-finish, is very much in the same reckoning as Aaron MacHale and Fisher. Breen’s Fiesta S2000 has been fully repaired since his off-road excursion in the Yorkshire forests last Saturday. The 18 stages (one original stage is now sub-divided due to road surfacing) will provide the answer as to which of the four becomes the new Irish Tarmac champion.
Outside of the championship contest, the Subaru quartet of Tim McNulty, Darren Gass, Denis Cronin and Daragh O’Riordan should make for an interesting battle. McNulty gained his first Tarmac win in Cork. Although there was some doubt about Gass, the Armagh ace confirmed he will drive a McKinstry-prepared Subaru.
Cronin, winner of the Rally of the Lakes, cannot be overlooked either as O’Riordan bids to get a strong result in his home county.
Aside from Fisher, the Group N entry also includes the Mitsubishi duo of Cork pair Kevin Kelleher and Owen Murphy, Limerick’s Colm Murphy (Subaru) and Seb Ling (Mitsubishi). Cork driver, Barry Meade (Escort) is the top entry in the Modified category where the opposition includes Washington James (Darrian) and the Escort trio of Ed O’Callaghan, Kevin O’Donoghue and Leonard Downey.
Carrigaline’s Brian O’Mahony (Renault Clio S1600) will be seeking a top finish on what will be his second appearance in a round of the 2010 ITC. Along with Denis Cronin and Ed O’Callaghan, he is battling for the Southern 4 Rally Championship.
A late entry from Marty McCormack will provide newly crowned British Citroen C2R2 champion Robbie Barrable with formidable opposition in the final round of the Irish series. McCormack leads the Dubliner by six points with Adrian McElhinney eight points further adrift.
Elsewhere, the Cork ‘20’ also features Tommy Doyle (Renault Clio), Mark Sheahan (Citroen C2R2) and Brian O’Keeffe (Subaru). Based at the Silver Springs Moran Hotel, the service location is in Macroom with tomorrow’s opening stage, Mullaghanish, starting at 9.13am. The finish ramp celebrations are scheduled for 3.45pm on Sunday afternoon with prize-giving at 9pm.
* The new Mini WRC, based on the Mini Countryman, was launched at the Paris Motor Show yesterday where Irish driver, Kris Meeke, was confirmed as one of the drivers that will contest the 2011 World Rally Championship with the car.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved