Triple national rally champion Niall Maguire has conquered the Sligo Rally on several occasions — as has his son Shane, who won last year — yet it has been nine years since Maguire Snr’s last triumph and, indeed, his last national victory.
Now, more than ever, the bell tolls for the popular Monaghan driver who needs a win to get his current Dunlop National Rally Championship bid back on track.
“From my current position, it will be difficult to win the championship. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Declan [Boyle] has made a pretty good start, with three wins out of four, and his car is hard to touch. We’ll see what the next few rounds bring, you never know.”
Maguire, who retired en-route to the first stage of the last round in Waterford, is 24 points off the lead.
Sunday’s nine-stage event, based at the Sligo Park Hotel, is round five of the eight-round series, with Donegal’s Boyle (S12B Subaru WRC) the favourite to land the Vard Memorial Trophy.
In the absence of second-placed James Belton (Subaru WRC), Maguire and Clonmel’s Roy White (MG S2000) can gain ground.
Hoping the current weather conditions remain unchanged, Wexford’s James Stafford (Darrian T90) should be on the pace of the WRC brigade. He leads the rally.ie category as the highest placed two-wheel driver in the overall standings within the Dunlop series.
Although Maguire Jnr will have the No 1 decals on the side of his Group N Subaru, he will run behind the more powerful WRCs. The Group N entry also features the Mitsubishi Evo IXs of fellow Monaghan aces Stephen Wright, Sam Moffett, Josh Moffett and Tyrone driver Pat Kirk, who finished runner-up in Sligo last year.
Josh Moffett is the leading contender for the Motorsport Safety Group N award. The stage locations are in Leitrim with the first, Meenymore, beginning at 10.32am.
Cork racer Matt Griffin will use the confidence of his podium finish in the recent 24 Hour Le Mans in the weekend’s double header in the International GT Open Series at his ‘home’ track in Silverstone this weekend where he teams up with Duncan Cameron in their Ferrari 458 Italia.
He said: “I think we have a very good chance, so far in the GT Open we have been very strong so I don’t think that will change now.”
After Silverstone, Griffin has rounds of the European Le Mans series and the Spa 24Hours.
Former Irish Forest Rally champions, Cork duo Owen Murphy and James O’Brien, will drive the ex-works Russell Brookes Sunbeam Lotus at the Festival of Speed in Goodwood today.
On Sunday, Murphy will compete in the Skibbereen & District Car Club’s Loose Surface Autocross in Clonakilty, while O’Brien will partner Clonmel’s Roy White in the Sligo Rally.
Meanwhile, The Tarmac Rally Organisers’ Association confirmed next year’s Clonakilty-based Quality Hotel West Cork Rally will be a counting round of the Modified category of the Irish Tarmac Championship.
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