Stafford led from the start and after the day’s nine stages, finished 34 seconds ahead of the Ford Focus WRC of Galway’s JJ Fleming, with Maynooth’s Kevin Barrett (Subaru WRC) 18 seconds further behind in third. One of the standout performances was that of West Cork driver, Damien McCarthy, who brought his 1600cc Honda Civic home in fourth.
The Group N category was won by Graham Scanlon (Subaru). Non-starters included Denis Cronin, his Subaru sidelined prior to the start due to a throttle pump failure. Eoin Doyle (Ford Focus WRC) and the Escort pair Neil Williams and James Coleman withdrew on Saturday.
With the exception of the first few kilometres, the dry conditions of the opening stage was just the start that Stafford needed. The Wellington Bridge driver powered his nimble Darrian into a 10-second lead with the rear wheel driver Mk 2 Escort of Fergus O’Meara next best. The trio of Kevin Barrett, JJ Fleming in World Rally Cars and the Honda Civic of Damien McCarthy tied for third — a mere second behind O’Meara.
Considering McCarthy lost time with a puncture after he cut a right hand bend and also damaged the wishbone and stub axle, his position was all the more admirable.
Stafford was also in command on the second test and was equal fastest with Fleming on the final stage of the opening loop. At the Kilkenny service, Stafford, by his own admission, was surprised to be leading — he was 18 seconds in front of Fleming, who had a few moments on the opening stage. Barrett, who was six seconds further behind in third, was quite content with his pace and position as he was bedding in a new engine.
There was a great battle for fourth with McCarthy holding a nine-second gain on O’Meara, who following his impressive opening stage, subsequently lost time on the third test when his Escort slipped off the road and bent a suspension strut.
Lloyd Hutchinson (Mini) was sixth with the Escort quartet of Chris Armstrong, Shay Power, Barry Ryan and Enda O’Brien completing the top 10. Power withdrew with clutch failure that occurred on the road section into service.
On the second loop, Stafford punched in a string of fastest times and extended his lead over an untroubled Fleming to 32 seconds. The rally leader was slightly concerned about a vibration that emanated from the rear of his Darrian. Barrett, a further 25 seconds behind in third, emphasised that he was really content to clock up the miles on the new engine. McCarthy and O’Meara continued to battle for fourth, with the former four seconds in front of his rival. Both had to revert to straightening the parts that were damaged on the opening loop. As a result, McCarthy’s car was somewhat errant under braking.
Armstrong was sixth; seventh-placed Ryan had a major oil leak and backed off on the latter part of the stage. The rest of the top 10 was completed by an untroubled Hutchinson (Mini), Keith Power (Renault Clio) and Enda O’Brien (Escort).
Stafford went to take victory with Fleming and Barrett completing the top three. McCarthy won the battle for fourth by a mere second after the Cork ace and O’Meara were on identical times entering the final stage.
Meanwhile, in the World Rally Championship, Sebastien Loeb won Rally New Zealand with his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen completing Citroen’s third successive one-two finish. Peter Solberg (Ford Fiesta) was third. Loeb has extended his lead over Hirvonen to 38 points.
Although Cork racer, Matt Griffin and team mate, Duncan Cameron in the M-Tech run Ferrari, qualified off pole for yesterday’s sixth round of the British GT Championship at Brands Hatch, they retired some 22 minutes into the two-hour race that was won by Alex Buncombe/Jann Mardenborough (Nissan GTR GT3).
Elsewhere, Morgan Dempsey and Noel Robinson shared the spoils in the Formula Ford double header at Kirkistown.