Donegal’s Donagh Kelly bids for a fourth successive victory at the Quality Hotel West Cork Rally this weekend - a feat that has never been achieved in the 40-year history of the Clonakilty event.
Fifteen stages over tomorrow and Sunday including classics like Ring, Ardfield and Rossmore will decide the destination of the title. Most of Kelly’s opposition are on board R5 cars spearheaded by Tyrone’s Alastair Fisher (Ford Fiesta), who crashed out on opening-day 12 months ago. He arrives in Clonakilty as leader of the Clonakilty Blackpudding ITC, whether or not he concentrates on championship points remains to be seen, however, his competitive nature would suggest otherwise – at least for the opening day.
The rally throws up an interesting comparison – a few weeks ago Monaghan’s Sam Moffett won the Nenagh Rally in a Ford Fiesta WRC with Kelly finishing third. In Clonakilty, Moffett will be back behind the wheel of his Fiesta R5 – there is a consensus the R5 cars are now closer to the more powerful WRC’s.
Josh Moffett is another that will have eyes on victory but as usual the first stage time he will seek will be that of his brother Sam. Meanwhile, there is a debut drive for former winner Dubliner Robert Barrable, who gives a Hyundai i20 R5 its first competitive appearance in Irish rallying. It may be too much to ask to be at the cutting edge on this occasion, but it will offer an option for the rest of a championship bid that began in Galway in a Fiesta. Monaghan’s Stephen Wright (Ford Fiesta R5) netted third in Clon two years ago and needs of a haul of championship points.
Local driver Kevin Kelleher is the only other WRC entry in the top ten, the Clonakilty man will pilot the McKinstry hired S14 Subaru. Mayo Rally winner Joe McGonigle (Skoda Fabia R5), Aaron McHale (Citroen DS3 R5) and Brendan Cumiskey (Skoda Fabia R5) complete the top ten.
There is a strong line up in the Modified category where Brian Brogan, Gary Kiernan, Adrian Hetherington, Damien Tourish, Wesley Patterson and Frank Kelly along with Bandon’s Andrew Mahon, all in Escorts are the principals – the West Cork duo of Vincent McSweeney (Honda Civic) and Damien McCarthy (Ford Puma) are also ones to watch. ITC Group N champion David Guest (Mitsubishi) is the lead entry in the showroom category. The event also counts towards the PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 Rally series.
Tomorrow also heralds the beginning of the British Rally Championship season with the Border Counties Rally in Scotland where Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin makes his debut in the M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5. He used last week’s Malcolm Wilson Rally to get accustomed to the DMACK tyres that he will use in the campaign. With just two outings in his own Fiesta R5 Cronin feels he’s making progress as he changes over to the M-Sport car. “Each time I drive the car it’s getting better I feel more comfortable. It is all about getting seat time especially on gravel. I’m looking forward to the M-Sport car I just need to fine-tune it to my liking before the rally. It’s a long season and I would be happy with a top three finish.”
Other Irish drivers include Derry’s Desi Henry and Marty McCormack in Skoda Fabia R5’s and both with Cork co-drivers - Millstreet’s Liam Moynihan and his Mallow cousin David Moynihan respectively. Skoda pair David Bogie and Fredrik Ahlin provide strong opposition over the stages in south Scotland near Jedburgh.
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