Trio set for epic title battle

THE triple title challenge for the Dunlop National Rally Championship involving Kerry’s Thomas Fitzmaurice, Monaghan’s Niall Maguire and Cork’s Brian O’Mahony enters a key phase on Sunday at the Sepam Tipperary Stonethrowers Rally.

The nine-stage Clonmel-based event is round six of the eight round series that has all three drivers in similar S11 Subaru WRC’s. In one of the closest fought campaigns in recent years, any of the trio can take the Vard Memorial Trophy were they to win the remaining three rounds.

Fitzmaurice, with two wins to his credit — Abbeyleix and the Circuit of Kerry — has garnered 72 points; Maguire, a winner in Mayo, has 68 points with O’Mahony, the victor in Carlow, on 56 points. The series is based on the best six scores from eight events.

That particular situation highlights the intensity of the championship battle and all three will fight for the win that will bring a maximum 20 points to the highest placed Dunlop finisher. Unlike the others, Fitzmaurice can also actually win the title by finishing second in Clonmel and the other rounds in Clare and Donegal — provided all three are won by Maguire, who would actually lose out on a tie-break.

Having crashed heavily in Tipperary some years ago, Maguire, the most experienced of the trio with three national titles under his belt, may have to summon some extra mental strength to concentrate on his title bid. The Monaghan ace has shown a fine turn of speed but will need to keep pace with his rivals right from the start.

All three skipped the Circuit of Munster but that will count as one of their dropped scores. For O’Mahony, who also failed to finish in Mayo, it means there is no safety net now and maximum points in Clonmel is almost a pre-requisite to ensure his title bid stays within his own grasp.

Although Maynooth’s Kevin Barrett (Subaru WRC) is out of the title challenge, he is a late entry and could split the championship trio.

The Tipperary organisers have attracted an impressive line-up with eight WRC’s expected to leave the start ramp at the Clonmel Park Hotel at 8.30am on Sunday morning. Galwegian JJ Fleming (Ford Focus WRC), a runner up in the recent Raven’s Rock Rally, make a rare outing in a round of the Dunlop series.

The Cork pair of Denis Cronin (Ballylickey) and Kevin Kelleher (Clonakilty) will compete in Subaru WRC’s, Cronin hasn’t competed since last October and it will be interesting to see how his pace compares with the Dunlop regulars. Kelleher, on board the car that actually won this event last year, had a curtailed outing in the Circuit of Munster, where he debuted the ex-McCloskey S9 Subaru.

Clonmel’s Roy White in his MG S2000, heads the local challenge. Third place in the Circuit of Munster represented his best finish of the season and given the quality of the entry, a top six finish would be regarded as a significant result.

Motorsport Safety Team Group N leader, Limerick’s, Colm Murphy (Subaru), can solidify his grasp on this category, his Circuit of Munster victory has pushed him well clear of his rivals.

Although Tyrone’s Frank Kelly and Donegal’s Declan Boyle share the lead in the Dunlop Mk. 2 Champions Trophy, Kelly’s main rival in Clonmel will be Cavan’s, Jonathan Pringle. Cavan driver Pringle is having a great season and is only 13 points off top spot.

The top 10 also features Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al Kuwari, who will drive a Mini WRC.

Other entries include the Mitsubishi duo of Sam and Josh Moffett and Shane Maguire (Subaru).

Former double British champion Guy Wilks and Mallow’s David Moynihan will compete in the Twingo Renault sport R2 Evolution car in next week’s Todds Leap International Rally Northern Ireland section of the Ulster Rally.

Meanwhile, Motorsport Ireland are expecting in excess of 60,000 people to attend next weekend’s Phoenix Park Motor Races.

The legendary races are celebrating their 110th anniversary this year. The highlight of the weekend is the Dublin Grand Prix which will be contested by the Historic Formula Ford 2000’s.

Also in action over the weekend will be Formula Libre, Strykers, Irish Touring Cars, GT’s and Sprints along with Supercars and classic bikes. Racing takes place over the Oldtown Circuit with its three main corners, Dublin corner, Furry Glen corner and Mountjoy corner.

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