The fifth round of the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship, the Joule Donegal International Rally will certainly be remembered as one of the classic events. With no less than six leaders over the course of the rally and the winning margin of just 0.5 seconds meant that it was the most exciting and unpredictable event in years. While Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin eventually had to settle for second behind Manus Kelly and Donall Barrett, the Cork driver showed his unquestioned talent to score maximum points in the championship. It was a remarkable performance considering they had been as low as ninth overall on the first day. It was a good weekend also for Sam & Josh Moffett who also scored well, while Alastair Fisher the erstwhile leader had a fraught second day but eventually finished sixth.
The first day had dry conditions and relatively short stages, but the action was hot from the word go, and by the end of the first loop Keith Cronin in fourth place was the top registered driver followed by Sam Moffett. Stephen Wright was in bother with his Fiesta which had lapsed into FWD and ended up costing him valuable time and dropped him back outside the top ten. It was a steady start from Fisher and Josh Moffett who lay inside the top eight, a comfortable position to be in with a long event ahead. The repeat loop of three stages brought a problem for Cronin as he punctured and dropped a minute leaving Alastair Fisher top of the pile with the Moffett siblings breathing down his neck. Jonny Greer was also having a productive day and was going very well in the second Citroen DS3. At the end of the opening day the championship order was Fisher, Sam Moffett, Josh Moffett, Cronin and Greer with Wright closing back in on the top ten after his earlier problems.
The second day began with the classic Knockalla stage and immediately Fisher hit problems having braked too late for junction causing an overshoot and some valuable seconds as well as some suspension damage. The Cronin fight back was starting with fastest time while Fisher and Sam Moffett were swapping seconds and positions every second stage. On the second run over Knockalla Cronin had a lucky escape when he hit some bales which only cost him a few seconds, while the following stage at Garrygort Sam Moffett was held up briefly when Manus Kelly went off the road. With ten stages gone the rally was at the halfway point and Sam Moffett was the top R5 driver by less than five seconds from Fisher with Cronin only eighteen seconds further back. Some niggling problems with the second Moffett Fiesta were costing Josh a few valuable seconds here and there and he was unable to make any inroads into his rival’s times. Greer, Wright and Joe McGonigle all featured in the top dozen, while second place in Group N was good enough for David Guest to stay ahead of his championship rivals. In the hotly contested R2 class Callum Devine was once again out in front from Marty Gallagher as another of his rivals William Creighton had retired after an accident.
The afternoon loop of Carn Hill and Gartan Lake saw a shakeup in the leader board when Fisher hit a chicane and punctured as well as partially holding up Sam Moffett who moved back to the top of the pile with Cronin now breathing down his neck. Fisher was in further bother on Gartan with a broken driveshaft and this dropped him outside the top ten. Cronin had also moved into the front after Gartan with another excellent time and Josh Moffett was now third of the R5 cars some 25 seconds behind Cronin. By the end of the second day Sam Moffett led the event overall after the high profile retirements of Donagh Kelly and Declan Boyle, and having been credited with time back after being held up on earlier stages. Keith Cronin was in third but only a handful of second’s further back and likely to make a charge on the final day while Josh Moffett & Stephen Wright were also well placed while a disappointed Fisher was too far back to make any further inroads unless one of his rivals hit trouble.
The final day was the real sting in the tail with six stages around Glen, Atlantic Drive and Fanad and conditions were deteriorating. A persistent drizzle turned into a very wet afternoon making life extremely difficult for the crews. Cronin immediately took control and went into the lead, and although Manus Kelly was closing the gap and championship points were a priority for Keith, he still put on a superb performance in very challenging conditions. In the end he was pipped on the final stage by the narrow margin of just 0.5 seconds, but was consoled by the fact that a third maximum score of the year was achieved after two disappointing results. Sam Moffett drove excellently as well to finish third overall on the event and this was enough to move him into lead alongside Fisher. Josh Moffett & Stephen Wright also scored well to leave just six points separating the top five with just two rounds to go. Alastair Fisher eventually finished sixth and despite the problems on the event, still shares the championship lead with Sam Moffett. Aaron McHale equalled his season’s best result with seventh overall. Second in Group N and ninth overall was enough for David Guest to extend his championship lead over Gus Kearney while another superb drive saw Callum Devine finish tenth and once again the top 2WD crew over six minutes ahead of his nearest class rival, Marty Gallagher. Some notable late retirements included Jonny Greer & Joe McGonigle who both went of the road.
Overall Standings after Round 5:
1st Alastair Fisher & Sam Moffett 54, 3rd Keith Cronin 49.5, 5th Josh Moffett & Stephen Wright 48
The Modified Championship saw its fourth winner in five rounds with Frank Kelly taking his first points of the season after a superb drive. Despite having to settle for second in the National Rally he set some stunning times over the weekend. It was a successful weekend also for Patrick McHugh who also picked up his first points since Galway while Jason McSweeney made the long journey from Cork to Donegal and also scored well. Although finishing back the order both Davy Armstrong and Ross Marshall pulled further clear of the chasing pack with Armstrong stretching his championship lead to four points while Corks John O’Sullivan moves into third place. Eugene Meegan who took maximum points in Killarney was an early retirement in Donegal.
Overall Modified Standings after Round 5:
1st Davy Armstrong 46, 2nd Ross Marshall 42, 3rd John O’Sullivan 34
Second place behind Seamus O’Connell was enough to keep Frank Cunningham in a strong lead in the Historic Championship. It was O’Connells first championship outing of the season and a dominant performance despite an early puncture meant he was never seriously threatened. Andy Johnson brought his beautiful Chevette home in third place ahead of John Coynes Sunbeam Lotus. David Goose lost some ground on Cunningham but still holds second place with Brendan McAree still in third just ahead of Andy Johnson and John Coyne.
Overall Historic Standings after Round 5:
1st Frank Cunningham 56, 2nd David Goose 36, 3rd Brendan McAree 28
In the Junior championship only three of the registered drivers scored points, but significantly these are the top three in the overall standings. Justin Ryan once again extended his lead to fourteen points from Noel Murphy, but Kevin Horgan scored maximum points to close the gap to second place to just two points. Its still all to play for once dropped scores are taken into account, but Ryan is still in a good position having a couple of maximum scores this season to date and can still afford to drop a round.
Overall Junior Standings after Round 5:
1st Justin Ryan 58, 2nd Noel Murphy 44, 3rd Kevin Horgan 42