Cronin leads Tarmac Championship after Galway
A new era was ushered in last weekend when the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship headed west for the Corrib Oil Galway international Rally, the opening round of the series. With the R5 / S2000 class now becoming the premier category in which to claim overall championship honours there were fifteen crews entered for the event in these cars. World rally cars are still allowed to win the individual events, but cannot score points towards the overall championship. There were fifteen stages tackled in Galway, nine on the first day near Killimor and Portumna with six on the second day between Loughrea and Gort.
Several of the top runners were given a nominal time when the first stage was temporarily interrupted including Keith Cronin, Alastair Fisher, Sam & Josh Moffett, and Stephen Wright, while Tommy Doyle (Skoda S2000) was the first championship contender to retire, going off the road. Desi Henry was able to take advantage of having a clean run to lead the chasing pack by eight seconds after the first stage. By the end of the third stage as the cars headed back to service Henrys lead had been cut by a hard charging Keith Cronin with Alastair Fisher & Sam Moffett separated by only a handful of seconds as the competition was fierce.
The next loop was somewhat curtailed due to accidents involving Declan Gallagher (Stage 5) and Declan Boyle (Stage 6), but Fisher had moved past his rivals to lead Cronin by five seconds with Henry less than a second behind, and Sam Moffett only another second back. The changeable conditions made life very difficult for the various crews and there was a lot of bent bodywork on cars throughout the field. Group N was led by David Guest in a Mitsubishi Lancer who was over 20 seconds ahead of the similar cars of Gus Kearney and William Mavitty. Class 2 saw a battle between the Opel Adam of Callum Devine, the Fiesta of Marty Gallagher and the Peugeot 208s of William Creighton and Andrew Slattery with the four crews separated by just over a minute, while Richard & James Whelan led Class 3.
The final three stages of the day saw the battle intensify with the rain staying away for the most part and roads drying out a little as Cronin edged ahead of Fisher by just two seconds overnight while Henry and Moffett were keeping the pressure on the leading pair. Josh Moffett, Jonny Greer, Stephen Wright and Joe McGonigle, were having their own battle just over a minute behind Cronin. Brendan Cumiskey & Aaron McHale were still getting used to their new cars and were lying over two minutes further off the pace. Welsh driver Tomas Davies was having a miserable run with suspension settings and punctures as well as some time consuming trips to the scenery all putting him well out of the running. Paul Rowley had been running well just outside the top ten in his Skoda S2000 but went off the road and got stuck on the final stages of the day, but re-joined for the second day under Rally 2 rules.
The second day was comprised of six stages, three runs over the Black Road near Loughrea and three runs over Lough Cutra near Gort. Bar the odd passing shower it was very cold with some sunshine, but the action remained hot and relentless. Despite a slight overshoot on the Black Road, Cronin held a six second advantage after eleven stages from Fisher and this pair began to pull away from Henry and Moffett who were still trying very hard. The lower end of the top ten was still changing as McGonigle set some very fast times to move ahead of Wright with Greer next in his sights.
The middle loop of stages saw the weather take a turn for the worse as conditions got very difficult with strong winds and driving rain making visibility a premium in places. Desi Henrys rally came to an unfortunate end when he crashed on the Black Road, bringing an end to an excellent drive. By the end of the second Lough Cutra stage, Cronin had put some daylight between himself and Fisher as he was now 29 seconds clear. Sam Moffett was now relatively comfortable with a cushion of just over a minute clear of his brother who was coming under increasing pressure from Greer and McGonigle.
Over the two remaining stages Cronin paced himself to come home sixteen seconds ahead of Fisher to lead the championship after the opening round, while Sam Moffetts impressive drive netted him two fastest stage times along the way to go third in the series. Josh Moffett took sixth place and is now fourth overall in the championship while Joe McGonigle pipped Jonny Greer for seventh on the final stage as Stephen Wright and David Guest rounded off the top ten, the latter also taking maximum points in Group N. Brendan Cumiskey (Fiesta R5) & Aaron McHale (Skoda S2000) are ninth and tenth overall after the opening round. Callum Devine took class 2 honours in his rapid Opel Adam from Marty Gallagher and William Creighton, and Richard Whelan took the honours in class 3 in his Citroen DS3.
The new rules made an instant impact with some very close competition over the weekend which augers well for the championship. The next round is the Quality Hotel Clonakilty West Cork Rally which will take place on 12th & 13th March.
The Modified Championship got off to a competitive start with Wesley Patterson / Johnny Baird & Eugene Meegan / Sarah Whelan locking horns in their Escort and BMW respectively. Patterson was held up on the first stage and lost time to Meegan and spent a lot of the first day trying to make back the time. Jason McSweeney in his Lancer was also in the hunt and was being pressed hard by Patrick McHugh in his Escort. By the end of the first day Meegan held a slender 1.8 second advantage over Patterson with McSweeney a further minute further back. Patrick McHugh, Ross Marshall and Davy Armstrong all in Escorts were in the top six, while last year’s Junior Champion John O’Sullivan was also not far behind.
On the opening pair of stages of the second day the lead changed hands twice as Patterson took and then lost the lead to Meegan as conditions deteriorated. It was surface water that caused Meegan to clip a bank and damage the steering on the third stage of the day putting him out of the rally and ending a very impressive drive. Patterson only needed to ease back a little and bring the car home to take maximum points after 15 tough stages. Jason McSweeney and Patrick McHugh moved to second and third in the championship while Ross Marshall, David Armstrong and John O’Sullivan completed the top six places.
Historic & Junior Championships
David Goose brought his immaculate green Escort home as top registered competitor to lead the Historic championship after the first round. Luke McCarthy in his Porsche had to settle for second after a great battle with Goose, with only sixteen seconds separating the pair at the end. Alex Schmieder and Brendan McAree completed the historic placings. There was some notable attrition as John Coyne, James O’Mahony, Frank Cunningham and Philip McKibbin were all forced to retire over the weekend.
The Junior Championship is currently being led by Justin Ryan in his Honda Civic with Kevin Horgan second, John O’Flaherty third and Noel Murphy fourth overall in the series.