Crews geared up for start of rally season

THE Valvoline National Forest Rally Championship heralds the beginning of the Irish rally season tomorrow with the Abbey Hotel Donegal Forest Rally making its debut in the series.

In the absence of defending champion, Cork driver Owen Murphy, who has to opt out the event due to a back injury, last year’s runner-up Vincent McAree is the top seed.

Reigning Group N Irish Tarmac champion, Garry Jennings is a late entry having acquired an ex-Prodrive Subaru 555. Even though the Fermanagh ace hasn’t competed in the forests for some seven years, he will be a strong contender for victory and may even continue with a title challenge.

McAree, in his Mitsubishi Evo9, made steady progress all through last season and was very impressive in the night stages of the Carrick-on-Suir event. The Monaghan driver needs to make a strong start and has plenty of opposition.

Tyrone’s Enda McNulty (Subaru) is the most potent threat, aside from Jennings, should come from Tipperary’s Pat O’Connell (Mitsubishi Evo9), who won the series in 2010. Martin Cairns (Subaru) and the Mitsubishi quartet of Ian Cochrane, Colin Britton, Stephen Wright and Gerard Lucey, who makes the trip from Cork, are next off the start ramp in Donegal town shortly after 8.30am.

Northern drivers dominate the two-wheel drive category. Tyrone’s Frank Kelly and Adrian Hetherington, Derry’s Seamus O’Connell, all in Mk 2 Escorts and Tyrone’s Shane McGirr and Carrick-on-Suir’s James Coleman (Ford Escort) will battle for supremacy.

The performance of Monaghan’s Sam Moffett (Mitsubishi), who won the Dunlop Group N Championship and the Billy Coleman award last year, will be watched with interest. Cork driver Mark Murphy a regular forest competitor will drive a Subaru WRX.

Elsewhere, the entry also features Ballylickey’s Daniel Cronin (Peugeot 206), brother of double British Rally champion, Keith. The first four stages are close to Pettigo with the remaining six stages in the vicinity of Barnesmore Gap.

On Sunday, the Trials Drivers’ Club multi-venue Autotest takes place in Mondello Park beginning at 9.30am and the Cavan Loose Surface Autocross at Latton Quarry, near Cootehill starts at 11am.

Fresh from his success in the Gulf 12 Hour last weekend Cork’s Matt Griffin has opted out of the weekend’s Daytona 24 Hour. Griffin, a factory Ferrari driver since last year, was the main development driver for the Ferrari 458 GT3 and competed in 36 races in the past season.

Although his plans for the current season are not fully finalised as yet, he is set to have an extremely busy time with the British GT Championship, the Blancpain Endurance series, the FIA GT3 European Championship and the European Le Mans Series. His next outing is the Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia.

Marymount Hospice (€9,000) and Operation Uisce (€2250) were the recipients of the proceeds of the Darren Swanton Memorial Cork City Rallysprint organised by Cork Motor Club in association with Cork City Council and the Bishopstown Lions Club last May.

Motor Factors Top Part are to continue their association with the West Coast Rally Championship for a 19th consecutive season, indeed, there are indications that their sponsorship of the popular regional series will continue well into the future.

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