Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes produced a perfect performance in inclement conditions to win the first round of the 2022 Acesigns Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, the Galway International Rally.
The Hyundai i20 R5 crew led the two-day rally from the second stage but periodic pacey bursts from Meirion Evans and Callum Devine ensured the win was never a runaway.
Evans and co-driver Jonathan Jackson set the times alight on Galway’s first stage, going 2.2 seconds quicker than anyone.
Moffett responded straightaway, however, and led his Welsh rival by 0.1 seconds as the crews arrived into Galway’s opening service.
After six stages on Saturday, only 30 seconds separated the top five contenders with Devine, Alastair Fisher, and Cathan McCourt locked in a battle for third.
Stage 7, Kiltormer, shook the top five up as Moffett and Evans both lost vital seconds running wide in the rain soaked roads. McCourt spun and stalled, losing 15 seconds and his fourth position to Fisher who built a 24-second gap to McCourt by the end of the day.
Out front, however, Moffett’s mastery of the tricky conditions, especially on the 14.9-kilometre Foolagh test, gave the Hyundai pilot an overnight cushion of 14.1 seconds.
Moffett was quickest out of the blocks on Sunday morning to increase his lead over Devine who now held second. But the Monaghan driver’s cushion was slashed by Evans on the succeeding Black Road test.
Evans won the stage by over 14 seconds to retake second and slice Moffett’s lead to five seconds. Moffett was losing power steering momentarily after hitting water splashes which filled most of the stage.
2020 Galway Rally winner Fisher was hoping to utilise his fond Black Road memories to challenge the crews in front. Instead he overshot a square right junction and with nowhere to go slid sideways into a solid bank.
A puncture soon followed and after losing two minutes changing his wheel, sixth was the best he could manage at the end of the rally.
Moffett and Evans’ ding-dong battle continued with Brady’s Yard continuing to suit Moffett and Black Road suiting Evans.
17.6 seconds was Moffett’s margin with one run of Black Road left to go on the 15-stage season-opener. A misted windscreen haunted Moffett through the 20-kilometre test and with Evans charging behind, he arrived at the stop control unsure of the final positions.
Evans came through, with a stage-winning time, but visibly shaken after contacting a stone wall through the stage. He admitted he was lucky to make it to the end and accepted his runner-up finish when the times were shared.
Devine soon followed, claiming another Irish Tarmac podium, 28.7 seconds behind rally winner Moffett.
McCourt, Daniel Cronin, and Alastair Fisher completed the International top six.
Class 24 winner, Garry Jennings, sealed fourth-place ITRC points in his right-hand-drive Ford Fiesta R5.
“We are over the moon,” said Moffett. “It has been a tough weekend so to get that result with the field of competitors behind us is unbelievable.
“It is a great start to the year and hopefully we can keep it going.”
With an M-Sport Poland backed Barum Rally drive on offer, the RC4 category is set to be hotly contested in 2022.
Ryan Caldwell and Grace O’Brien produced an impressive display to win the competitive class by over two and a half minutes.
The young Strabane driver, who is a drifting champion, only started rallying last year. To come out on top in such a demanding rally shows there is a great deal of promise for Caldwell.
Joseph Kelly finished second in his Peugeot 208 Rally4 with Andrew Burke completing the top three.
Ulster Rally Rally4 winner Eamonn Kelly started out on top but a burst radiator ruled him out early on Saturday.
Jason Dickson took up the lead but he succumbed to the challenging conditions on Stage 5.
Gary Kiernan and Darren O’Brien claimed a hard fought victory in Galway’s Modified section. Their winning margin may have been over two minutes ahead of Jason Black and Karl Egan, but that undersells the battles that raged over the two days.
Kevin Eves was the first to stake his claim on the honour of fastest two-wheel-drive pilot in Galway. The Toyota Corolla driver built a 19-second lead over Black’s Toyota Starlet by the end of Saturday’s fourth stage.
Eves’ pace got the better of him on the fifth stage though when he locked up under braking. The subsequent overshoot pushed his Corolla into a pillar and broke its back axle.
Black picked up the lead, 10 seconds ahead of Kiernan’s Ford Escort. Daniel McKenna was now only 2.2 seconds behind Kiernan.
Class 13 driver Black continued to fend his Class 14 rivals off until a puncture on Saturday’s penultimate stage cost him over two minutes.
McKenna jumped ahead of Kiernan to lead the Modified section of an International Rally for the first time since 2015. The difference between the two was only three seconds overnight.
The pair fought hard on Sunday’s opening stages before McKenna’s rally came to an end on the same junction as Fisher punctured a loop earlier.
Unfortunately for McKenna the impact was more sizable and brought an end to his rally.
Kiernan now held a three minute lead with Black back up into second having fought back from sixth overnight.
The two finished the remaining two stages to seal their strong results while 2019 Modified champion Damian Toner completed the top three.
James Ford won Galway’s Historic section but it was Duncan Williams and Declan Casey who scored top points in the Acesigns Historic Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
Williams fought off championship rival Maurice Meskell to come away from Galway at the top of the Historic standings.
Jack McKenna topped the Junior times in Galway but it was Jason Farrell who finished as top registered driver to take an early lead in the Junior Championship.
Galway International Rally Top Ten:
1 Josh Moffett – Andy Hayes (Hyundai i20 R5) // 1:46:40.8s
2 Meirion Evans – Jonathan Jackson (Volkswagen Polo R5) // +14.1s
3 Callum Devine – Brian Hoy (Ford Fiesta Rally2) // +28.7
4 Cathan McCourt – Liam Moynihan (Fiesta Rally2) // +3:08.0
5 Daniel Cronin – Shane Buckley (Polo R5) // +3:48.4
6 Alastair Fisher – Gordon Noble (Polo R5) // +4:40.5
7 David Kelly – Dean O’Sullivan (Fiesta R5) // +5:07.5
8 Enda O’Brien – John Butler (Polo R5) // +6:05.9
9 Paul Barrett – Darragh Kelly (Fiesta R5) // 7:03.2
10 Keith Lyons – JJ Cremin (Fiesta R5) // +7:07.9
Adam Hall, ITRC Press Officer