There are events that will always buck the trend in Irish rallying and this weekend’s Quality Hotel West Cork Rally, the opening rounds of the Irish Tarmac Championship and the PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 Rally Championship is a prime example.
At a time when the level of entries are of concern to rally organisers, the Clonakilty based event has some 170 entries.
Over tomorrow’s eight stages and a further six on Sunday, Donagh Kelly goes in search of an unprecedented fifth successive win. His KN backed Ford Focus WRC seems to perform to perfection on the West Cork terrain.
However, he’s taking nothing for granted as he rates fellow Donegal ace Declan Boyle (Fiesta WRC) very highly. Boyle won last week’s Mayo Rally in convincing fashion and his confidence will be high, however, Kelly’s knowledge of the stages around Clonakilty may be decisive. The remainder of the top ten are in R5 cars — all Fiesta’s bar the Hyundai i20 of five times Irish Tarmac champion Eugene Donnelly.
Champion Sam Moffett begins the defence of his Tarmac crown in Clonakilty and although most of his main rivals have used other events as a shakedown for Clonakilty, Moffett will be on his maiden outing this year.
His younger brother Josh was second in Mayo last Sunday and he will be sharp, the brothers relish their own battles but in West Cork there will be plenty more resistance.
Dubliner Robert Barrable is a former winner and while he impressed last year in a Hyundai, his switch to a Fiesta will not be an impediment.
While Derry’s Desi Henry debuted his Fiesta in Mayo, he lacked real opposition that could have bracketed his performance. Better known as a gravel driver, he could spring a surprise in Clonakilty.
But for many, the return of five times champion Eugene Donnelly will be watched with more than a passing interest. The Derry ace was hugely popular during his time behind the wheel of a Toyota Corolla WRC when he was virtually untouchable, there’s no doubt that he will take time to adjust to the R5 scene.
Meanwhile, Ballylickey’s Daniel Cronin and Monaghan’s Stephen Wright complete the top ten.
A competitive entry in the Modified category is led by Donegal’s Kevin Eves (Toyota Corolla), who won the category last year. Opposition is strong with Gary Kiernan debuting a 2.5 litre engine Proton Satria, former event winner Welsh ace John Dalton (Darrian), Declan Gallagher (Toyota Starlet) and the Escort sextet of Adrian Hetherington, Wesley Patterson, Phil Collins, Ed O’Callaghan, Damien Tourish and Frank Kelly.
Dunmanway’s David Guest (Mitsubishi) leads the Group N challenge and in the Historics, Ovens driver Owen Murphy seeks to continue the form that gave him maximum points in the Killarney Historic Rally.
The opening stage at Ring gets underway at 10.28am and on Sunday, Ardfield is the day’s opener just after midday, servicing on both days is at the Darrara Agriculture complex. The finish is at Emmet Square.
Elsewhere, Limerick husband and wife duo Matt and Catherine Shinnors are competing in the Safari Rally in Africa this weekend. They will campaign a hired Ford Escort.
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