As the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship and the British Rally Championship coincide on the John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally that begins from Derry city this afternoon, the Irish series is more delicately poised.
A six-point margin covers the top five drivers while the corresponding margin in the BRC is a whopping 39 points between just two drivers as both championships reach their penultimate stage.
In the ITC, Tyrone’s Alistair Fisher and Monaghan’s Sam Moffett in Fiesta R5’s share the lead with Cork’s Keith Cronin within touching distance – 4.5 points behind and Monaghan’s Stephen Wright and Josh Moffett a mere 1.5 points further behind. Cronin is targeting a top two finish and identified Fisher as his most potent rival. The rally will be virtually new terrain for the contenders but this will not faze the Ballylickey driver. “Yes, Donegal was fairly new to me and I did fine there. I looked at the DVD of the stages it would appear they are not as smooth as one would expect. The stages in the Sperrins region are choppy and bumpy and there are dips, so that will be a challenge, they also appear to be narrow and tricky. Alastair (Fisher) will be the one to watch again but Sam (Moffett) will also be thereabouts.”
With maximum points in the opening two rounds, Cronin made the best possible start in his bid to win the series – it is 32 years since Billy Coleman was the last Cork driver to win the championship.
Cronin’s maximum points achievement in Donegal was a terrific boost and a similar performance this weekend will set up a title decider on the Acesigns Cork “20“ International in October where 50% bonus points creates an extra dimension. Fisher is more than capable of offering strong opposition, should both stay out of trouble, it should be a riveting encounter and it will also be interesting to see how their times compare with top seed and BRC leader Elfyn Evans (Ford Fiesta R5).
Norway’s Fredrik Ahlin (Fiesta R5) is seeded at four and will be followed by Scottish ace David Bogie (Skoda Fabia R5), Josh Moffett (Fiesta R5), Desi Henry (Skoda Fabia R5) and Marty McCormack (Skoda S2000).
In event terms McCormack and his Mallow co-driver David Moynihan could be the dark horses. They were impressive during the early stages of the Circuit of Ireland until a mechanical issue forced them out. The presence of triple Ulster Rally winner Garry Jennings in the Spencer Sport R5 specification Mitsubishi Mirage will be watched with interest, he is seeded at nine ahead of Sam Moffett. Outside of the top ten there are entries from Derek McGarrity (Fiesta R5), Jonny Greer (Citroen DS3 R5) and Stephen Wright (Fiesta R5). The Escorts of Wesley Patterson, Camillus Bradley and Alistair Cochrane are amongst the National entry.
Meanwhile, Killarney’s Rob Duggan, current Billy Coleman Young Rally Driver of the Year winner, can clinch the inaugural DMACK Junior British Rally Championship crown. On board the Vauxhall Adam R2, he has a 25-point lead over Norway’s Sindre Furuseth and he will use the rally as his “Joker” round (double points) where a decent finish will be enough to secure the title. Today’s six stages are near Strabane.
The Skibbereen and District Car Club’s double header Autotest goes ahead in Clonakilty tomorrow at 2.30pm and Sunday at 11am.
Cavan’s Chris Armstrong is the latest bi-monthly nominee for this year’s Billy Coleman Young Driver of Year award.
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