There was a dramatic finish to the Quality Hotels West Cork Rally in Clonakilty, with Carrigaline’s Brian O’Mahony and Mayo co-driver John Higgins (Subaru WRC) coming through to take the honours.
Throughout yesterday’s six stages they were embroiled in a fascinating battle for supremacy with the Subaru WRC of Ballylickey’s Denis Cronin and Coleman Hurley.
After overcoming an overnight deficit of 28.8 seconds, O’Mahony went in front on SS10 — but then lost the lead on the penultimate stage.
Cronin entered the final stage with a lead of 4.7secs as the showdown loomed. However, it never materialised as he crashed out to leave O’Mahony to take the laurels.
Owen Murphy and co-driver Anthony Nestor (Mitsubishi) took a fine second place, with last year’s winners Daragh O’Riordan and Tony McDaid (Fiesta WRC) finishing third.
O’Mahony posted the best time on the opening stage at Glandore, however drama unfolded when the Subaru of local driver Kevin Kelleher caught fire close to the final junction with Denis Cronin, Owen Murphy, Damien McCarthy and JJ Fleming all stopping to help extinguish the fire. For McCarthy, it was his final time on the leaderboard as he withdrew his re-built Honda Civic with overheating issues.
On the second stage at Sam’s Cross, Cronin set the pace from a hard charging Murphy, who was 6.9secs behind and a mere 0.4secs ahead of O’Mahony.
On the final stage of the loop, Cronin punched in another fastest time to move 12.5 seconds clear of Murphy. JJ Fleming slotted his Ford Focus into third as the top two seeds dropped time. O’Mahony, in fourth, lost 17.2secs to the leader — stalling the S14 Subaru and having to switch off the anti-lag after detecting a problem with the rear differential.
O’Riordan, next in classification, had to cope with some intercom woes and suspension issues.
Meanwhile, in the two-wheel drive category, Adrian Hetherington (Escort) led Frank Kelly (Escort) by just 3.6 seconds, John Cope (Subaru WRC) along with Ed O’Callaghan and Leonard Downey, both in Escorts, completed the top 10. Welsh ace John Dalton (Darrian) lost time with a puncture and had to complete another stage on a space saver tyre.
As he grew increasingly confident with his new surroundings, Cronin dominated the remaining three stages of Saturday’s leg and at the overnight halt in Clonakilty, led O’Mahony by 28.8 seconds.
On the day’s final stage, there was only three-tenths of a second between them in favour of the West Cork man.
Murphy, who had a slight excursion on SS4 that claimed the rear bumper, continued in third, with an untroubled Fleming fourth. Fifth-placed O’Riordan lost time with a puncture on SS4 as Hetherington continued to lead the Modified category — 22.6secs ahead of Kelly. Dalton gained ground to slot into eighth from O’Callaghan and Cope, who completed the overnight top 10.
On yesterday’s opening stage at Ring, O’Mahony began his recovery as he cut 4.6secs off the deficit. Gaining a massive 19.4secs on stage eight and 2.1secs on stage nine, Cronin’s margin was trimmed to 2.7secs after the opening loop. Both pointed to time losses as they stalled on stage seven, Cronin had no time to use the launch control on stage eight and spun on SS9. Meanwhile, Murphy was nursing his car due to clutch difficulties and rear differential woes. O’Riordan set some strong times to move into fourth.
The lead changed on the second run through Ring where O’Mahony moved 7.6secs ahead. However, it was a brief tenure as he dropped significant time on the penultimate stage with a handbrake issue.
Cronin was back in front and entered the final stage with a lead of 4.7secs.
However, it all went awry when he crashed out. O’Mahony went on to take victory ahead of Murphy and O’Riordan.
Fleming, Dalton and Kelly completed the top six, with Dalton winning the Modified category after the demise of Hetherington, who crashed out on SS9.
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