The iconic Circuit of Ireland Rally played host to the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship last weekend and the third round of the series has certainly shaken things up in the overall scheme of things. Heading into this round Keith Cronin had taken maximum points from both events to date and held a six point lead over Sam Moffett with Josh Moffett back in third place. The Circuit was also a counting round of the ERC and BRC so the competition was always going to be fierce, and so it proved to be. With Craig Breen looking to defend his Circuit of Ireland crown and former WRC regular Elfyn Evans among the crews entered, there was a strong incentive for the local drivers to do well.
For championship leader Cronin though, the weekend was all too short, as brief excursion on the opening stage saw some irreparable damage done to his radiator and he was forced out. This really opened the door for the other ITC contenders with Fisher in particular setting some excellent times to hold a strong third place after three stages. Desi Henry had been as high as fourth early on but a puncture on stage 3 was followed by more terminal mechanical problems on the following stage as his frustrating year continues. The two Moffetts and Jonny Greer were the best of the remaining championship registered contenders and all three were lying inside the top ten by the end of the fifth stage at Glendun. Stephen Wright who outside the top ten felt he had lost some time with tyre problems early on, while championship front runner in Class 2, Callum Devine was forced out on the second stage when a driveshaft broke which handed the initiative to his rivals William Creighton, Marty Gallagher & Fraser Mulholland. Group N was being led by the Kearney brothers, Pat and Gus, with Gus having the slight edge after the first day’s action.
By the end of the final days test at the Newtownards Special Stage, Fisher was still the leading championship contender and in a position to make up the lost ground from his West Cork accident a month previously. There were eight stages still to be tackled on the second day with the stages centred around Banbridge. Behind Fisher the Moffetts were moving up the leader board, but Sams rally came to an end on Stage 9 when he got stuck on a bank, while Josh could suddenly see a chance of catching Fisher and went on a real charge. Fisher for his part was not looking for a race against the leading pair of Breen & Kajetanowicz but instead was avoiding risks and gaining maximum points. Greer was also on a big push and was now close to the top five with only four stages remaining. Tom Cave who registered for the championship in his Fiesta R5 was now in seventh overall just ahead of Wright and Joe McGonigle who have been battling out in the championship all year.
There was little change to the leader board over the remaining stages as Breen won from Kajetanowicz with Alastair Fisher taking an excellent third overall which moves him right back into contention in the championship in third place. The drive of the day was undoubtedly Josh Moffetts, who took fourth overall and with it, the tarmac championship lead. Greer eventually finished fifth after an excellent second day while Cave, Wright and McGonigle all finished in the top ten. Rhys Yates and Tomas Davies also completed the tough event and gathered some valuable championship points. Group N was won by Pat Kearney ahead of his brother Gus which made up for the last stage retirement of the previous round in West Cork. William Creighton took maximum points in Class 2 in his Peugeot 208 while Fraser Mulholland and Marty Gallagher all gained on Callum Devine who eventually took fourth having competed in Rally 2.
Overall Standings after Round 3
- Josh Moffett – 36
- Keith Cronin – 32
- Alastair Fisher – 30
- Sam Moffett / Jonny Greer / Stephen Wright – 26
The Modified championship still sees Scottish crew Ross Marshall & Dave Robson lead the series but this lead has been cut after the Circuit of Ireland. Wesley Patterson & Johnny Baird ended their recent jinx on the event with a fine performance which netted them third overall in the National Rally behind winner Derek McGarrity in a Fiesta WRC and runner up Ollie Mellors in Proton Satria. This gave Patterson maximum points and leaves him only two points behind Marshall heading into round 4. Marshall came home eleventh overall while Davy Armstrong and Martin McGarrity took third place points with 17th place overall. Frank Kelly was also expected to challenge, but after a good start engine problems forced his retirement as the Circuit of Ireland continues to be an unlucky event for him.
Overall Modified Standings after Round 3
1 – Ross Marshall – 34
2 – Wesley Patterson – 32
3 – Davy Armstrong – 26
Second place in the historic category behind Ian Millar was enough to give Frank Cunningham in a Ford Escort RS1800 maximum points which puts him into the lead of the Historic Championship. Andy Johnson on his first championship appearance of the year was next up while Brendan McAree did enough to move into second place in the historic championship behind Cunningham. Multiple Historic champion Dessie Nutt was another to score points and get his campaign off to a good start.
Overall Historic Standings after Round 3
1 – Frank Cunningham – 26
2 – Brendan McAree – 20
3 – David Goose / Philip Wylie – 16
The action now turns to the fourth round of the series in less than three weeks with the Cartell.ie Rally of the Lakes on the May Bank Holiday weekend with the championship finely poised as it passes the halfway mark. Only ten points separate the top six drivers and its sure to make for interesting viewing in the south west on this classic event.