Michael O’Brien aims to hit top gear in Enniskillen

With consistent performances on the opening four rounds of the Valvoline Irish Forest Rally Championship, London-based Cork driver Michael O’Brien (Ford Focus WRC) makes another trip across the Irish Sea for tomorrow’s TuffMac Trailers Lakeland Rally in Enniskillen. The event also counts towards the Northern Ireland McGrady Insurance and Carryduff Forklift Championship.

O’Brien won the opening round in Carrick-on-Suir and followed that with top three championship finishes in Donegal and the two rounds in his native county that were won by reigning champion Owen Murphy.

However, Murphy has decided against a title bid essentially leaving Monaghan’s Josh Moffett as O’Brien’s main title rival.

Even though he trails O’Brien by a massive 37 points, the three remaining events – Mayo and Glens of Antrim along with tomorrow’s rally offer Moffett the opportunity to claim the title as the series is based on the best five scores from the seven rounds.

The Enniskillen entry, with over a hundred crews, is competitive, with Martin Cairns (Subaru WRC) the top seed followed by O’Brien. Antrim’s Desi Henry, who narrowly lost out on the title last year, will take his Skoda Fabia S2000 into the forests for the first time.

With his Millstreet co-driver Liam Moynihan (last year’s championship winning co-driver), the pair finished second on the recent Ulster Rally that was also based in Enniskillen.

Jonny Greer (Citroen DS3R5), Sam Moffett (Mitsubishi), Andrew Purcell (Mitsubishi), Niall Henry (Subaru WRC) are all in the mix, with Purcell a real contender for victory. How their positions impact on the championship will have repercussions for O’Brien and Josh Moffett.

Meanwhile, Mark Donnelly (Mitsubishi) and James Gillen (Subaru) complete the top ten. Elsewhere, there are places for the Mitsubishi pair of Jonny Leonard and Gerard Lucey.

In the two-wheel drive category, the top seeds are Adrian Hetherington and Frank Kelly in Escorts, Shane McGirr (Toyota Starlet) and Mickey Conlon (Escort), who is second overall in the Valvoline series.

The rally also incorporates the “Road2Wales” competition with Killarney’s Rob Duggan (Peugeot 208R2) leading the way in the bid to secure the prize of a fully-funded drive in a Citroen (DS3R5) in Rally GB in November.

Opposition includes the similar car of Jon Armstrong and Alan Smyth (Citroen C2R2). For Duggan, it will be his forest debut in his new car, “I will try and be as competitive as I can especially with Jon Armstrong, who will be more familiar with his car. I don’t have to beat Jon to retain the advantage but it’s very important that I finish as Alan Smyth is also in the mix.”

Meanwhile, in the Valvoline Junior front that has a prize on each event supported by Ears Motorsport Ireland, Patrick O’Brien (Citroen C2R2) and Kevin Eves (Peugeot 208R2) are the principals.

The crews head off from the Enniskillen

start at 9.30am for the eight stages (4x2) in west Fermanagh.

Meanwhile, the Irish Examiner understands that the Donegal Motor Club has taken the first steps in seeking its official return to the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship.

Last week, a press release from the club stated its actual return. However, this was not reflective of the true situation as it is the TROA and not a member club that decides. It now appears that the Donegal organisers have written to the TROA – and acknowledged that this is what they should have done in the first instance.

Elsewhere, the clubs affiliated to Motorsport Ireland have called on the governing body to look at the situation regarding the change of date for next year’s Circuit of Ireland that moves from its traditional Easter date to April 8/9.

The launch of the Acesigns Cork “20” International Rally takes place in Fermoy this evening.

In the penultimate round of the European le Mans Series (ELMS), the 4 Hours of Le Castellet at the Paul Ricard Circuit in France, Douglas racer Matt Griffin and team mates Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott in their AF Corse run Ferrari 458 Italia compete in the LMGTE category. Griffin has a good record at Paul Ricard, netting class wins with RAM Racing last year and AF Corse in 2013.

In championship terms, the trio will be aiming to close or overtake the Formula Racing trio of Johnny Laursen, Mikkel Mac and Andrea Rizzoli whom they trail by five points.

Elsewhere, Portadown’s Adam Carroll (Porsche 911RSR) is part of the Gulf Racing UK outfit. The race begins at noon on Sunday.

Round nine of the British Touring Car Championship is at the Rockingham circuit on Sunday. Currently, Portadown’s Colin Turkington is fourth in the series and Dubliner Aron Smith is eleventh.



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