The 2016 Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship will be remembered for excitement, competitiveness and drama throughout the season, and the final round in Cork last week provided a fitting conclusion. The AceSigns Cork 20 International Rally was the seventh and final round of the series and with bonus points on offer and the best five scores to count, it meant that’s mathematically four drivers could still win the series.
The top seeds Alastair Fisher & Gordon Noble were leading the series and needed to finish ahead of closest rivals Keith Cronin & Mikie Galvin to secure the title, while Cronin had to do likewise to pip his rival. Sam & Josh Moffett were also in with a chance but would require the top pair to finish down the field for them to win. Cronin was quickest on the opening test at Caherduggan only for Fisher to move ahead on the second stage. A quickest time on the third stage for Cronin closed the gap right in to Fisher as the top two dominated the early stage times. However it was all to go horribly wrong for Fisher on Stage 4 when he went off the road and his championship dreams were over for this year. By this time Cronin held a lead of 24 seconds from Sam Moffett back in third place with Josh less than a second further back.
The afternoon stages saw the roads completely dry and the pace increase, with Sam Moffett taking 11 seconds back from Cronin although Josh Moffett had a close encounter at a flying crossroads. The same location was to catch out Group N champion David Guest who crashed out from tenth overall. The remainder of the opening day saw the Moffett bothers and the non registered Roy White reeling in Cronin who was struggling to find a proper pace to maintain his lead without putting the championship in jeopardy. By the end of the days eight stages only 14 seconds separated the top four places.
Jonny Greer was having a strong run in fifth place while Stephen Wright, Brendan Cumiskey & Paraic Duffy were also in the top ten, and the FWD category was being led by Marty Gallagher by just 0.2 seconds from Callum Devine. Their other main rival William Creighton had crashed out on Stage 2 and had rejoined under Rally 2 rules, but with a lot of time lost. Owen Murphy was another retirement in his Skoda S2000 with oil pressure problems.
The second day began with the Badgers Hill stage and Josh immediately moved from 4th to 2nd with a fastest stage time. Cronin was now thinking of the championship only and had no desire to get involved in a fight for the lead as the other drivers all closed in. By the end of the three stage loop Josh mad moved into the lead ahead of Cronin but the top four were still only separated by 5.9 seconds with fifth place Jonny Greer only 40 seconds off the lead such was the pace on the stages.
Cronin punctured on the twelfth stage to leave things much too close for comfort as he dropped to fourth place. Josh still held the rally lead but was coming under pressure from Sam and Roy White, while Cronin was almost in the clutches of Greer. Josh kept it all together despite a late charge from his brother to take his first International win. Sam finished in second place just 4.6 seconds behind which was also enough to secure runner up spot in the championship. Cronin & Galvin came home fourth which was enough for them to become Irish Tarmac Champions for 2016. Other registered drivers to finish in the top ten included Greer, Stephen Wright, Brendan Cumiskey, Joe Connolly & Callum Devine.
Top 5 Overall Championship Points
1 – Keith Cronin 78
2 – Sam Moffett 75
3 – Josh Moffett 72
4 – Alastair Fisher 70
5 – Jonny Greer 55
The Modified Championship was also set to be decided in Cork with Ross Marshall & Davy Armstrong in their respective Escorts set to do battle. Marshall held a slim advantage of just four points but couldn’t afford to have Armstrong finish more than one place ahead of him with the bonus points on offer. Eugene Meegan was the main pace setter throughout the first day but a gearbox problem forced him out at the end of the final stage of the day. Marshall had encountered mechanical problems on the opening loop and was forced to rejoin under Rally 2 rules. This meant he had to stay within one place of his rival to win the championship. Two early retirements were Jason McSweeney & John O’Sullivan who both crashed out on the opening stage, the latter still managed to hold third place overall in the championship.
Brian Brogan took over the lead after Meegans retirement and used his power advantage over the faster Sunday stages to edge away from the hard trying Tommy Doyle in his Renault Clio. Brogan took the honours by over 90 seconds from Doyle at the end of the event. Armstrong was the third registered driver home but it was not enough to deprive Marshall of the title, as the Scottish driver took the title by just a single point.
Top 5 Modified Championship Points
1 – Ross Marshall 71
2 – Davy Armstrong 70
3 – John O’Sullivan 43
4 – Brian Brogan 40
5 – Nick Barnett 39.5
This championship had already been decided in Frank Cunninghams favour prior to the event, and the battle was for the minor placings in Cork. Third overall in the Historic Rally was enough to secure the runner up spot in the championship for Brendan McAree in his Porsche 911. Top points were taken by Duncan William who moved into fifth overall in the series while Niall Creighton moved into fourth place behind Andy Johnston who didn’t start the event.
Top 5 Historic Championship Points
1 – Frank Cunningham 70
2 – Brendan McAree 59
3 – Andy Johnson 42
4 – Niall Creighton 41
5 – Duncan Williams 40
This was a winner takes all scenario as long time championship leader Justin Ryan had been reeled in after the Ulster Rally by Kevin Horgan. Both drivers were level on points going into Cork with Noel Murphy in with a chance in third place if the leading pair were to falter. Horgan was the driver with the advantage as he was in home territory and got off to a flying start taking over thirty seconds from both of his rivals. Ryans case wasn’t helped by an excursion on the 11th stage which left him an insurmountable obstacle. Horgan kept things steady after that to finish third on the Junior Rally and take top championship points on his way to the title. Noel Murphy was second registered driver to finish with Justin Ryan having to settle for third registered driver home. There had been some outstanding performances over the season as each of the drivers travelled to rounds far from home and acquitted themselves excellently.
Top 3 Junior Championship Points
1 – Kevin Horgan 82
2 – Justin Ryan 76
3 – Noel Murphy 65