Although the top five drivers are covered by a 14-point margin, the form of the leading trio of Cashel’s Liam Ryan, Monaghan’s Vincent McAree and Ovens ace Owen Murphy would suggest they will be at the cutting edge in the Mallow-based Jim Walsh Cork Forest Rally.
Murphy, with victories in the opening two rounds, looked set for a unique hat-trick on the Tallow-based Moonraker Rally until his Mitsubishi overheated. His demise allowed Ryan and McAree gain ground, they now share the outright lead of the series, with Murphy 11 points behind in third.
Ryan has shown a fine turn of speed and should remain a serious threat, McAree continues to improve but with Murphy on home territory the quest for maximum points takes on an added incentive.
McAree, Ryan and Murphy are the respective top three seeds with Tipperary’s reigning Irish Forest Champion Pat O’Connell next off the start line. He can afford to throw caution to the wind but it remains to be seen if he will entice the championship trio to get involved in a separate battle.
Gerard Lucey, with a consistent run in all three events to date, is just two points behind Murphy. Having competed in his first tarmac rally for over three years in Clonmel last Sunday, Tipperary’s James Coleman will be in more familiar territory in amongst the timber.
North Cork driver Paul Fitzgerald completes the championship quintet that is within the 14-point frame, he leads the two-wheel drive category — 19 points ahead of Junior driver Douglas Stewart (Peugeot 206).
Elsewhere in the field, former British rally champion co-driver Greg Shinnors will partner his father Joe onboard a Mk 2 Ford Escort.
The entry also includes Aidan Caldwell (Escort) and Toyota Starlet pair Shane McGirr and Mick Cuddihy.
Aside from Stewart, the Junior entry also features Derek Butler (Honda Civic), Kevin O’Connor (Citroen C2), David Fleming (Honda Civic) and Clonakilty’s Cal McCarthy.
The action gets under way with the stage at Peter’s Hill. Bweeng, Mount Hilary and Streamhill Bridge, a 19km stage in the Ballyhoura forest complex, are the other stage locations. Rally headquarters is at the Roundabout Inn with the service location at the Quartertown Industrial Estate.
Also taking place at the weekend are the Midland Autocross at Ballybeg, Tulsk in Roscommon (3pm tomorrow and 11am on Sunday) and the Monaghan Autocross at Pitwood Quarry, outside Virginia (11.30am Sunday).
The Bantry-based Westlodge Hotel Fastnet Rally, which will take place on October 30, was lodged last evening. The rally will be the final round of the Dunlop National Rally championship and will be notable for the town centre service location.
The move to Bantry came as a surprise to many but the Skibbereen and District Car Club — the organisers — were very impressed with the offer from the new host town.
The rally was first based in Schull in 1982 but then had a 17-year tenure in Glandore sandwiched between stints in Skibbereen. It has been won by six Cork drivers, with Frank O’Mahony and Liam McCarthy leading the way with three wins each.