Just two drivers seeded in the top 10 in the Circuit are actually competing in Killarney, in effect, both events have suffered due to their proximity.
McNulty, who won the opening round in Galway, is an avid admirer of the stages in counties Cork and Kerry as he seeks a third victory in Killarney. The Meath ace lines up behind Ballylickey’s Denis Cronin (Subaru WRC), who won last year — taking advantage of McNulty’s demise a few stages from the finish.
Cronin crashed heavily on the Fastnet Rally last October and this will be his first outing of the season. His regular co-driver, Helen O’Sullivan, still hasn’t fully recovered from that incident and Coleman Hurley will deputise.
With Derek McGarrity and Aaron MacHale withdrawing earlier this week, Kevin Barrett and Daragh O’Riordan remain the only other Subaru WRC entries in the top 10. McNulty is unlikely to argue with the suggestion the biggest threat to a third victory will come from within. In the past he had the propensity to be the master of his own downfall, so his speed on the stages will have to be tempered accordingly, against an opposition that he has beaten on previous occasions. However, 16 stages in Killarney will provide a test of character as much as ability.
Drivers such as Cronin will always be there to pounce should the opportunity arise, last year was a case in point.
Meanwhile, Kevin Barrett, one of the survivors from the Circuit, needs the McKinstry-prepared Subaru to run untroubled, unlike last week when it proved problematic for most of the rally.
Cork driver Daragh O’Riordan has yet to come to grips with his Subaru S12B. It may well be that he is giving it too much respect — McNulty will vouch for the fact the S12B requires an aggressive approach.
Alan Ring, the top Kerry entry, was denied a chance to move to the top of the standings in the Irish Tarmac series when his Mitsubishi suffered turbo and transmission troubles on the final loop of last week’s Circuit of Ireland. He also has unfinished business in Killarney, given the fact that he retired en-route to the opening stage last year.
The Escorts of Barry Meade, Fergus O’Meara and Martin McGee complete the top 10 starters. Aside from the quest to finish as the top two-wheel drive, they will all fancy their chances of a top-six overall finish. Former Tarmac Group N champion Ger O’Donovan (Subaru), Eugene Meegan (Mitsubishi) and Brian O’Keeffe (Subaru) are Ring’s main opposition in the showroom category.
Elsewhere, the local contingent includes the Ford Escort trio of Kevin O’Donoghue, Charlie and John Hickey and Vincent O’Shea (Escort Cosworth). Donegal’s, Eugene Ferry (Escort) and Kilkenny’s, Eoin Doyle (Subaru) are also amongst the starting top 20.
In the Junior category, Jack Newman (Honda Civic), Cal McCarthy (Honda Civic) and Sean Moran (Toyota Corolla) are the top three seeds.
Tomorrow’s first stage, Molls Gap, begins shortly after 8am, Beallaghbeama, Caragh Lake and Shanera are the other stage locations, with servicing at the Liebherr complex in Killarney. Sunday’s stages are Moll’s Gap, the Healy Pass, Cods Head, Ardgroom and Killmackillogue, with servicing in Castletownbere.
The finish ramp at the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney is timed for 5.25pm.
Meanwhile, the Pirelli International Rally, round three of the Dulux Trade British Rally Championship, begins from Carlisle this evening. The Irish trio of Omagh’s Mark Donnelly (Renault Clio), Draperstown’s Marty McCormack (Citroen DS3) and Waterford’s Craig Breen (Ford Fiesta R2) head the entry.
Breen, who was denied victory in a Fiesta S2000 by a final-stage puncture last year, will use his own Fiesta R2 in the Kielder forests.
Elsewhere, Robert Barrable (Skoda Fabia S2000), Danny Barry (Mitsubishi) and Jonny Greer (Skoda Fabia S2000) add to the strong Irish contingent. There are 11 more stages tomorrow.
The 500 MRCI motor races at Kirkistown will feature Ginetta Juniors and Strykers along with most of the other classes, with the exception of the Formula Ford. Qualifying begins at 9am tomorrow.