Clark and Casey share top points in thrilling Killarney opener

A thrilling duel for Killarney Historic Rally honours between Jonny Greer and Donagh Kelly heated the frosty Kerry countryside as Greer’s Ford Sierra Sapphire came from behind to steal a 3.7-second victory.

A sub-zero start in Killarney’s Parc Ferme provided an early test for the historic time pieces before thoughts turned to how the road conditions would be.

A surprise rain shower left most of the crews stranded on slick tyres and it was Greer’s four-wheel-drive Sierra that set stage one’s early benchmark. Kelly’s BMW M3 had wet tyres across its front axle and he utilised the grip to steal 16.7 seconds and the Killarney Historic Rally lead from Greer on the second test.

Greer and his returning co-driver Kirsty Riddick punched in a string of fastest times to overhaul the dazzling BMW M3 of Donagh Kelly and Rory Kennedy with one stage to go.

Defending Killarney Historic winner Greer held on through the night-time Rockfield decider to seal an impressive two-in-a-row for his family-run Sierra.

As both crews aren’t registered for the 2024 Sherwood Engines Historic Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, the battle for top points on the season’s opening round provided another intense storyline to follow.

Ray Breen and Damien Morrissey were the first to stake their claim for top ITRC honours. Breen flew over Caragh Lake to slot his Legacy into third overall, 18 seconds behind Greer.

Reigning Historic Irish Tarmac Champions Duncan Williams and Guy Weaver had a start to forget, however. They overshot a junction in their Ford Escort RS1800 and had a couple of spins, losing a minute on Killarney’s slippery first stage.

The title-winning duo struggled to recover, lacking confidence in the cold, wet conditions, and eventually finished the eight-stage event in 22nd place.

Michael McDaid and Declan Casey found their form on stage four to set the third-fastest time. It promoted their Escort RS1800 into fifth overall, ahead of early ITRC pacesetter Breen.

12 seconds covered the seven crews from third to Neil Williams and Anthony O’Sullivan in ninth. Williams had found his sweet spot on Dromin after a difficult start to the rally.

Tomas Davies was another Welshman finding form with the seven-strong fight for third doubling up as a fight for top Sherwood Engines Historic ITRC points.

Breen and Morrissey slipped out of the fight for top ITRC points when they dropped four minutes on Killarney’s fifth test. Their Subaru Legacy returned to service a damaged front bumper but fought on to complete each of the rally’s eight stages.

McDaid and Casey jumped into third overall on the second pass of Shanara, stage six, despite nursing alternator issues. McDaid isn’t a registered ITRC driver but his co-driver Casey was hoping for an early headstart in his bid for co-drivers’ championship honours.

After struggling in the early morning conditions, 2022 champions Neil Williams and Anthony O’Sullivan completed a spirited fight back from ninth through Killarney’s second loop of stages. They finished stage six in fifth overall, top ITRC registered driver, 6.6 seconds ahead of championship rival Tom Clark.

With just two seconds between Clark, Melvyn Evans, and Tomas Davies – it was still all to play for heading into Killarney’s deciding Rockfield double-header.

Davies was hoping he could make an impact on the top five. Driving a fresh Ford Escort, Davies admitted he struggled with his pacenotes on Caragh Lake but took hope from the fact he wouldn’t need to complete the tricky lakeside test again.

Davies’ hopes of challenging his ITRC rivals took a hit on stage seven when he overshot his Escort through a gate. They held onto eighth at the end of the rally, just ahead of Melvyn Evans and Sean Hayde who suffered a gearbox issue on the Rockfield finale.

Wayne Evans and John Smithwick benefitted from Davies and Evans’ woes to finish joint-eighth with Davies. In seventh, Tommy McDonagh and Paul Murphy completed a great drive, just missing out on sixth to Williams and O’Sullivan by six tenths of a second after 52 minutes of rallying.

Tom Clark and Alistair Wyllie were also picking their way through the pack on Killarney’s slippery December stages. Clark thought he had lost time on the penultimate test but instead set a time good enough to usurp Williams in fifth.

With 2021 Historic ITRC champions Williams and O’Sullivan just 1.3-seconds behind, Clark had to be at his best to keep that top five spot with one stage to go.

The English driver repeated his impressive attempt on the final running of Rockfield, joking that he drove better in the dark than he had all day. Clark’s cracking effort was enough to extend his advantage over Williams, sealing fifth and secure top championship points on round one.

Michael McDaid and Declan Casey continue to set benchmark Ford Escort times to claim third overall by 26.5 seconds over Denis Moynihan and Martin O’Brien, giving Casey an early lead in ITRC’s co-drivers’ standings.

Killarney Historic Rally results (Top Ten):

1 Jonathan Greer / Kirsty Riddick (Ford Sierra) 49:27.0s
2 Donagh Kelly / Rory Kennedy (BMW M3) +3.7s

3 Michael McDaid / Declan Casey (Ford Escort RS1800) +1:51.9
4 Denis Moynihan / Martin O’Brien (Escort RS1600) +2:18.40

5 Tom Clark / Alistair Wyllie (Escort RS1800) +2:27.8
6 Neil Williams / Anthony O’Sullivan (Escort RS1800) +2:38.5

7 Tommy McDonagh / Paul Murphy (Escort RS1800) +2:39.1
8 Wayne Evans / John Smithwick (Escort RS1800) +3:00.2

8 Tomas Davies / Eurig Davies (Escort RS1800) +3:00.2
10 Melvyn Evans / Sean Hayde (Escort RS1800) +3:02.9

Full results –