A thrilling Killarney Historic Rally proved to be a perfect end-of-season event and an epic opener for the 2023 Synergy Motorsport Engineering Historic Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
Jonny Greer and Craig Breen enjoyed a scintillating battle in their Ford Sierras with the international drivers dead-level on time ahead of Killarney’s Molls Gap finale. Unfortunately Breen’s ex Frank Meagher Sierra broke a driveshaft just before the start-line, handing a well-deserved victory to Greer and co-driver Niall Burns.
Greer has become a Killarney Historic regular in recent years – his annual one-off historic drive. The Northern Irishman, who finished fourth in the 2022 Irish Tarmac Championship, wasn’t registered for the historic category which paved the way for a fantastic fight over Historic ITRC points in the positions just behind.
Reigning Historic Irish Tarmac Champions – Neil Williams and Anthony O’Sullivan – showed their class to lead their championship rivals from start to finish. They finished Killarney Historic Rally fourth overall, 49.1 seconds ahead of Fergus O’Meara who sealed second-place championship points.
English visitor and championship newcomer, Tom Clark, completed ITRC’s top three finishers. His navigator, Alistair Wyllie, was rewarded second-place points in the co-drivers’ championship.
Less than six seconds covered Synergy Historic’s leading four crews after Killarney’s Molls Gap opener.
O’Meara was 0.7 seconds behind Williams – the local pilot was one of several crews to survive a moment on the slippery opening stage. The Ford Escort RS1800 of Michael McDaid and Declan Casey lay just behind O’Meara, three seconds ahead of Mark Falvey’s RS1600 Escort.
A brace of brilliant runs through Ballaghbeama and Kilgobnet allowed Williams and O’Sullivan to break clear of their Irish Tarmac rivals. They led O’Meara’s Escort by 12.7 seconds after stage three. O’Meara struggled with his hard tyre selection through the morning and sacrificed a few seconds as he passed Sebastian Ling’s stricken Escort on Ballaghbeama.
O’Meara was coming under increasing pressure from another Killarney pilot, Mark Falvey. Falvey had increased his pace to jump ahead of McDaid and Casey.
In fact, Falvey had Donagh Kelly’s BMW M3 in sighting distance on Killarney’s second pass of Ballaghbeama. It was all going so well until Falvey’s famous Billy Coleman Escort clipped one of the pass’s infamous rocks.
The incident brought an end to Falvey’s Killarney hopes although he is already looking forward to a return on next year’s West Cork Rally.
McDaid and Casey inherited Falvey’s third-place ITRC position but it was short-lived. The hard-charging gravel experts attacked Killarney’s penultimate test with a little too much vigour. Their Ford Escort RS1800 hit a chicane in Kilgobnet leaving them stranded for eight minutes and subsequently out of contention.
It was the third accident to greet Fergus O’Meara and Mike Galvin who were bound to hope Killarney misfortune didn’t strike them next.
And it nearly did. An alternator warning light flickered on O’Meara’s dashboard when his Escort screamed above 6000 rpm throughout the very last stage of the rally. O’Meara used his experience to err on the side of caution, cruising home to a top-five Killarney Historic Rally finish and runner-up ITRC points behind Williams and O’Sullivan.
Tom Clark and Alistair Wyllie climbed up from 24th to eighth overall to complete ITRC’s top three. Clark’s times were ever-improving on his first rally since 2016.
The Englishman was left satisfied with the experience, singing the praises of Killarney’s Ballaghbeama challenge in particular. Historic fans can look forward to his return to Ireland on February’s Galway Rally.
Duncan Williams and Guy Weaver bedded themselves into another Irish Historic campaign with fourth-place points. Williams, who finished second in the 2022 championship, had a steady drive on his first rally since August’s Ulster Rally. Williams and Weaver will be ones to watch in Galway as they defend their Historic victory secured 12 months earlier.
Ross Forde completed the top five in Killarney but narrowly missed out on fourth by 0.9 seconds from Williams. Forde went for it on the final run of Molls Gap, taking 4.4 seconds out of Williams but it just wasn’t enough to claim the position.
After round one, Harold Bunting and Dessie Wilson top Historic ITRC’s Category 1 standings in their Mini Cooper S while Peadar and Grace Walsh pipped Maurice and Steve Meskell to Category 2 honours by 10.3 seconds in Killarney.
The Walshes have also taken an early lead in Class H2 while the Meskells lead Aidan O’Connor and Ian Regan’s similar RS1600 Escort in Class H4.
Ialra and Jack Carty lead Category 4B and H8 after finishing 45th in Killarney in their Vauxhall Nova.
Ross Forde heads Category 5 and Class H9 in his Ford Escort RS1800, four points clear of Gareth Lloyds BMW M3.
Teams will renew their friendly Synergy Motorsport Engineering Historic ITRC rivalries on next year’s Galway International Rally which takes place on 4-5 February.
Photo by Roger Dawson
Synergy Historic ITRC points:
Adam Hall, ITRC Press Officer