Irish rallying reaches a watershed this weekend with the Acesigns Signmakers Cork “20” International Rally that begins tomorrow.
The rally will be the final event within the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship where World Rally Cars will be allowed score championship points for the overall award, following the decision by the Tarmac Rally Organisers Association (TROA) to effectively ban WRCs and select the R5 range of cars as the preferred option for 2016.
For now, the likes of top seed Darragh O’Riordan (Ford Fiesta WRC) and newly-crowned champion Donagh Kelly (Ford Focus WRC) will just concentrate on dominating the 14 stages that are based close to Rathcormack tomorrow and Killavullen on Sunday. The ceremonial start is at 8pm tonight in Fermoy town centre.
In O’Riordan’s case, it’s all about racking up victory number five on the trot. However, Kelly will have ideas of breaking this unprecedented sequence. With four wins from five events the Donegal driver became Tarmac champion even by sitting out the Circuit of Ireland.
The County Cork stages are fast and flowing and will suit the World Cars but are unforgiving in terms of the R5 cars where Cork ace Keith Cronin is the highest profile driver. The triple British Rally champion debuted his Citroen DS3R5 on last year’s event. He was quickest through the opening stage but two slight misdemeanours cost him any chance of beating O’Riordan and he finished second.
Cronin’s campaign in the WRC2 category of the World Rally Championship faltered before his first event. A heavy accident during the recce for Rally de Portugal sidelined him for the rest of the year. A test earlier this week in the re-shelled car has given the Ballylickey ace renewed confidence. “It took a while to get the speed up, it felt pretty good at the end of the test. We tried different sets of dampers and the car felt much better than before.”
As for tomorrow, he added, “I’m not setting any targets. There is no point battling with the WRC’s. I want to feel comfortable and then get up to speed and as the event progresses, my stage times should improve.”
His uncle Denis in his S9 Subaru WRC and Mel Evans in an S12B Subaru are also on the entry along with Clonmel’s Roy White who will debut a Ford Fiesta WRC. Having campaigned an MG ZR for eight years, White, a former Group N Tarmac champion will be quick once he gets to grips with the technology of his new car. Sensibly, he’s treating the rally as a learning curve.
Elsewhere, the top 10 includes Stephen Wright (Ford Fiesta R5), Joe McGonigle (Skoda Fabia S2000) and the Group N duo, Brendan Cumiskey (Subaru) and Aaron MacHale (Mitsubishi), who are battling for the showroom title in the Tarmac series.
The top local Group N entry is that of Dunmanway’s David Guest (Mitsubishi), who is also targeting a major share of points in the PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 Championship that should also see O’Riordan get into the reckoning for the title on this penultimate round.
North Cork driver John O’Sullivan (Honda Civic) needs to stay out of trouble to become the Irish Tarmac Junior champion, Killarney’s Rob Duggan (Peugeot 208R2) could benefit from any slip-up. Based at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Little Island, the first of tomorrow’s eight stages is at 9.24am. Servicing on both days is in Fermoy town.
Meanwhile, after an absence of seven years, the World Rally Championship returns to the Mediterranean island of Corsica for the Tour de Corse.
Fresh from their third place in Rally Australia the Irish crew of Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroen Ds3 WRC) are seeking another podium position. Meeke remarked, “It’s a new rally, really. I am going to try to drive at my own pace and, if things go well, we should be in a position to fight for a place on the podium.”
Meeke’s team-mate Mads Ostberg returns after missing Australia due to an accident during reconnaissance.
Waterford’s Craig Breen (Peugeot 208T16) aims to secure a strong result in the WRC2 category but Wexford’s Eamonn Boland (Subaru) has been forced to withdraw due to a back injury. The competitive distance involved in today’s three stages is almost 110 kilometres.
Elsewhere, Jack Byrne (17) from Ratoath County Meath is the latest nominee for the Dunlop Young Racing Driver of the Year title. He won the August award courtesy of a brace of wins in the Fiesta Junior class at Mondello Park.
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