Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin overcame challenging conditions to seal a 38.1-second victory on the Galway International Rally in their Ford Fiesta Rally2.
Cronin was in top form to resist a mid-rally challenge from 2023 Irish Tarmac Champions Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan.
“We haven’t done a rally at this level in Ireland for a long time,” said Cronin at the end of the final stage. “I certainly didn’t expect to win here, it is just fantastic.”
Cronin, who hasn’t competed in Galway since 2016, set the benchmark time of the Samdec Security International runners on a slippery 12.3-kilometre Kilcoona opener. Cronin was 1.2 seconds faster than Sam Moffett through Galway’s first stage as usual Irish Tarmac frontrunners, Callum Devine and Josh Moffett, encountered early issues.
Somehow, Devine managed to set the third-fastest time on Galway’s first stage despite struggling to hear his co-driver Noel O’Sullivan over intercom interference. Josh Moffett finished stage one in fourth but was grimacing after his new Citroen C3 Rally2 was bottoming out over some severe Galway bumps and jumps.
Matt Edwards’ Galway International Rally debut came to a devastating early end on stage two. His Fiesta slid wide into a bank and clipped a rock on a slippery Caherlistrane right-hander. Steering damage meant the three-time British Rally Champion had to retire from fifth position.
Another Fiesta found itself in the wars as Ryan Loughran twice impacted stone walls on stage three. His Fiesta completed the loop without its front bumper and missing a bolt in a front wheel hub.
Loughran battled back to ninth at the end of day one – even though a wandering sheep forced him to a standstill on a fast straight on stage eight.
The roads had started to dry in Galway’s countryside but the winter muck made the conditions as treacherous as ever.
Greer became Galway’s latest victim, retiring his Citroen two junctions from the end of stage four.
Sam Moffett slipped from fourth to fifth on the 12.7-kilometre Kilbeg test. His Hyundai stalled under braking, pushing him into a wall. Thankfully for the 2017 Irish Tarmac Champion, it was a relatively gentle nudge with his Hyundai able to complete the loop albeit losing over 30 seconds to the leaders.
A brave tyre call on Saturday afternoon kept Devine in touch overnight, starting Sunday’s six stages 15.6 seconds behind Cronin.
Overnight rain made for difficult rallying conditions on Sunday morning. Cronin used all his experience to find the perfect balance of speed and safety to grab a hat-trick of stage wins.
Devine couldn’t match his new Irish Tarmac rival. The Derry-based driver admitted braking too early on Sunday’s initial tests, having never before driven on the wet tyres his Volkswagen Polo R5 was depending on.
Cronin held a 31.9-second lead with two stages remaining and was able to cruise home to take a dream result on ITRC’s opener.
The battle for third, and top position in the new Citroen C3 Rally2 Trophy, was heating up on Sunday morning.
Josh Moffett held a 6.4-second advantage over Desi Henry at the start of Sunday’s stages. As Moffett continued to learn how best to handle his new Citroen in the wet conditions, Henry knew he was in a prime position to pressurise.
Despite a trip up a bank and pushing too hard on stage 12, Henry cut the gap to Moffett to 2.1 seconds with two Galway tests to go.
Moffett upped his game on the drying roads setting a second- and first-fastest time. His podium position and 5000 euro C3 Trophy prize were confirmed when Henry slipped wide on a square left junction on Galway’s finale.
Henry’s rally rested in the spectators’ hands as his Citroen was beached stage-side. The eager fans pulled Henry, and Scottish co-driver Stuart Louden, out of trouble although the time loss cost them two positions to Declan Boyle and David Kelly.
McEvoy Motorsport Modified ITRC
Frank Kelly, Rodney Wilton, and Conor Murphy found themselves in a three-way Ford Escort Mk2 fight for two-wheel-drive honours after Galway’s opening day of action.
Murphy blitzed his opposition on Sunday’s Belleville opener, beating Kelly by 18.1 seconds on the 16.8-kilometre test.
Wilton marked his intent on the next stage, taking his second stage win of the weekend. 2.5 seconds separated the trio of Escorts with three tests remaining.
Wilton blotted his copybook on stage 12, diving into a hedge and having to reverse out.
Meanwhile, Kelly couldn’t find the same speed he was utilising the previous day. With one stage to go Murphy held an 11-second lead over Kelly with Wilton a further 6.6 seconds back.
Disaster struck Murphy on Galway’s finale as his Escort’s engine pulled the pin at the end of the stage. The Kerry driver made it to the finish line but ended the rally a mere four seconds off last-minute winner Kelly. Wilton had to settle for third.
Mark Alcorn and Darren Curran looked set to take a comfortable lead over their two-wheel-drive rivals into Galway’s second day of action. Their 31.9-second advantage dissipated on Saturday’s penultimate Kilbeg test, though, when Alcorn’s Ford Escort Mk2 suffered a tyre blow-out in sixth gear.
Kevin Eves had a rally to forget in his Toyota Corolla. An overshoot into somebody’s driveway put him on the back foot on Galway’s opening stage before a hefty collision with a three-bale chicane on stage two put him out of the rally.
Ireland’s young guns provided a top-quality battle in ITRC’s Rally4 category. Keelan Grogan and Ryan McHugh started as they meant to go – Grogan bettering the Donegal driver by a mere tenth of a second on stage one.
Their dazzling duel lasted the length of the rally with last-minute drama settling the contest.
After slipping behind McHugh’s Ford Fiesta Rally4 on Sunday’s opener, Grogan bounced back with a brace of fastest times to grab a 12.5-second lead with two stages to go.
McHugh admitted that he was unable to find his usual rally-driving rhythm but managed to cut Grogan’s lead to 3.1 seconds before Galway’s decider.
The race was on for top points in ITRC’s Rally4 curtain raiser.
A collision with a round bale would prove pivotal – Grogan’s Peugeot 208 Rally4 arrived at the end of the stage showing its war wounds. The resulting seven-second time loss was enough for McHugh to slip ahead and clinch his first Rally4 victory of the year.
Joseph Kelly and Killian McArdle finished in third with Aoife Raftery and Jack Brennan some of the top names to fall away in the tricky Galway conditions.
Sherwood Engines Historic ITRC
Meirion Evans successfully defended his 2023 Historic Galway Rally victory with a 37-second victory alongside co-driver Anthony O’Sullivan.
Evans managed his overnight lead through Sunday with Tomas and Eurig Davies happy to start their year with a runner-up result.
John O’Donnell was on full attack in his BMW M3 on Sunday. A series of top times moved him ahead of Hugh McQuaid and Declan Casey in third. O’Donnell and Oisin Joyce eventually secured the final podium spot with over 30 seconds in hand over McQuaid.
O’Donnell’s Sunday form adds him to the list of Historic ITRC contenders ahead of the next round in West Cork.
Early pacesetter Ray Breen stormed his way back through the pack on Sunday. His stunning stage times aboard the Subaru Legacy ensured he sealed a top-six finish after lying in 14th on Saturday evening.
Paul Browne Plant Hire & Civil Engineering Junior ITRC
Jason Wilkinson and Danny Cannon grabbed a near-three-minute victory in Juniors. Eoin Kelly and Darragh Kelly finished in second, one place ahead of rally-long leader Ronan Dorrian.
Dorrian looked set to seal Galway’s Junior victory until mechanical failure cost him several minutes on the final stage.
Photos by D Harrigan Images
Adam Hall, ITRC Press Officer