Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson started their 2023 Samdec Security Irish Tarmac Rally Championship in style by winning an enthralling Galway International Rally.
The 15-stage rally will go down in history as one of Irish Tarmac’s best season openers with endless lead changes, multiple rally challengers, and several stage winners.
Evans had to contend with pacey performances from Josh Moffett, Sam Moffett, Cathan McCourt, and Robert Barrable on his way to sealing his second-ever international rally win.
A seriously strong display on Sunday’s Black Road and Ballydoogan tests allowed the Welsh crew to jump from fourth to first in Galway, securing an early head-start in the 2023 Irish Tarmac Championship.
“I don’t know what to think,” said Evans. “They never come easy over here and this rally was no exception. You just have to look at the number of lead changes.
“Josh’s mistake let us in but once we got that we knew we couldn’t let the opportunity go.
“We have been the fastest crew today and it is awesome to get the win.”
Sam Moffett and Keith Moriarty were the first duos to stake their claim for Galway honours. The popular crew were making their ITRC comeback after spending last year in a Toyota Starlet. Their brand-new Hyundai i20 Rally2 looked fit for the unique Galway conditions with the 2017 Irish Tarmac Champion behind the wheel.
Incredibly, 11 crews came within 10 seconds of Moffett’s stage one benchmark – such was the level of competition in Galway.
Reigning champions, Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes, could only manage the fifth-fastest time on stage one but they jumped into the lead with the fastest time on the next test.
Both Sam Moffett and Meirion Evans briefly held the lead on Saturday before Josh Moffett adapted best to wet conditions on Saturday’s final three stages. Cathan McCourt and Liam Moynihan were the only ones who could stay within touching distance of Moffett’s i20 R5.
Moffett held a 7.8-second overnight lead ahead of McCourt with Sam Moffett and Meirion Evans a further 11 seconds behind.
Slippery conditions continued to greet Galway’s contenders on Sunday and the opening Ballydoogan test claimed the Citroen C3 Rally2 of second-placed McCourt.
The Tyrone driver was caught out by shiny tarmac present before a left-hander. His Citroen clobbered a wall with the subsequent damage forcing him to retire.
Evans and Jackson were fastest on the early morning test to jump into second and move within 15 seconds of Moffett and Hayes.
Stage 12, Black Road, would shake up the standings even further. Sam Moffett felt at one with his Hyundai through the infamous Galway stage when a slippery tightening right-hander dragged the front of the i20 into the scenery. Moffett had to reverse out of the less-than-ideal scenario, costing him the time he thought he could have gained with his otherwise impressive attack through the 19-kilometre test.
But worse befell his brother Josh who hit a chicane before spinning at the same Black Road corner as Sam. A sensational time through Black Road by Evans compounded the effects of both Moffetts’ errors. Evans was now in front but knew he was far from safe from a potential Josh Moffett attack.
The stage was set for another rally-ending thriller. As expected, Josh Moffett attacked through Ballydoogan but in his bid to upset Evans’ newfound pace, Moffett made another costly mistake. His Hyundai overshot a junction, leaking more time to Evans who perfected his rhythm through Ballydoogan to secure a hat-trick of Sunday stage wins.
The damage was done as Evans and Jackson held their nerve to secure a 12.7-second victory over Josh Moffett and Hayes. Sam Moffett and Moriarty rounded out the podium positions after their impressive Rally2 i20 debut.
Several crews starred in battles behind the top three. Patrick and Stephen O’Brien scored an incredible fastest-time through the final pass of Black Road to aid their rise from ninth to sixth overall on Sunday.
Garry Jennings was another top performer in Galway, showing the flair that won him the Galway International Rally in 2016 and ‘17. His near 10-year-old Ford Fiesta struggled to keep up with fresher models on Sunday and fell from fifth to seventh in the standings.
Jonny Greer and Callum Devine were locked in a battle for fourth with Jennings for most of Sunday. Greer and Devine traded places several times with the latter holding a 0.6-second advantage ahead of the final stage.
Greer hit the sweet spot in his Citroen C3 Rally2 on Galway’s final Ballydoogan test, though, recording an aptly timed first stage-win of 2023 to usurp Devine’s Volkswagen Polo R5 and seal a hard-fought fourth-place finish.
Casey Jay Coleman and Adam Coffey came out on top of a healthy Rally4 field in Galway. They were dominant over the two days to finish almost three minutes ahead of the fellow Ford Fiesta Rally4 crew of Shane Quinn and Patrick Brides.
Joseph Kelly and Ronan Comerford completed the RC4 podium in their Peugeot 208 Rally4.
McEvoy Motorsport Modified ITRC
Mark Alcorn and John O’Donnell won Galway International Rally’s Modified category thanks to one of the drives of the rally.
It was the Donegal crew’s maiden victory at an international level and they did so in flamboyant fashion.
Alcorn originally faced stiff competition from Kevin Eves and Class 13 star Brian Lavelle. Alcorn’s Ford Escort Mk2 and Eves’ Toyota Corolla traded times throughout Saturday morning.
Just when it looked like Eves had found his form on stages four and five, the Pettigo driver was forced to retire his Corolla on Stage 6.
Alcorn now held a 28.9-second lead over new Class 14 recruits Jason Black and Karl Egan. Despite a few hairy moments in challenging Galway conditions, Alcorn never looked like losing his modified lead and eventually slid his way to a one-minute, seven-second victory.
Conor Murphy and Sean Collins shined on Galway’s wet roads on Saturday afternoon. A string of fast stage times, including the fastest time on day one’s final test, had them jump ahead of Black and Egan to hold second position overnight.
Sunday was Black’s time to shine, however, as he got more used to the power in his newly installed 2.5-litre engine. Black powered ahead of Murphy on Stage 12 and followed up with the fastest time in modifieds on Black Road’s repeated running.
But Alcorn was too hot to handle in Galway, taking the McEvoy Motorsport Modified Irish Tarmac Rally Championship’s opener by storm. Black was happy with his charge back to claim second while Murphy and Collins had to settle for third.
Synergy Motorsport Engineering Historic ITRC
There was another Meirion Evans at the top on the 2023 Galway International Rally. This time it was Wales’ Historic driver who claimed a well-earned victory in round two of the Synergy Historic Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
Evans, and co-driver Dale Furniss, faced early challenges from Ross and Aaron Forde, Duncan Williams and Guy Weaver, as well as Wayne Evans and Sion Jones.
But none of them could catch Evans who was charging out in front holding a 31.8-second overnight lead from Ray Breen and Damien Morrissey’s Subaru Legacy.
Breen had come on form through the second half of Saturday scoring two stage wins on Eden Hill.
Just ten seconds separated the six fastest Historic crews through Sunday’s opening Ballydoogan test – an indication of the Synergy Motorsport Engineering series’ competitiveness this year.
The Ford Escort RS1800 of Evans and the Legacy of Breen continued to share stage wins through Sunday with the former managing his margin to eventually seal a 31.3-second victory.
2022 Historic ITRC runners-up, Williams and Weaver, finished one minute and 22 seconds behind Breen and Morrissey to secure their first Historic podium since last year’s Galway International Rally.
The result propels the Englishmen up to the top of the Synergy Historic Irish Tarmac Championship just ahead of round one winners Neil Williams and Anthony O’Sullivan.
Iarla and Jack Carty were the top finishers in Class 17 aboard their trusty Vauxhall Nova.
Paul Browne Plant Hire & Civil Engineering Junior ITRC
Jack McKenna and Damien Doherty secured a 20.5-second victory in Galway International Rally’s Junior section. They overcome a double challenge from fellow Honda Civic drivers, Jason Gorham and Ben McIntyre.
A rapid time through Stage 13, seven seconds faster than their rivals, put McIntyre and Andrew Wedlock within 0.3 seconds of category leader McKenna. Unfortunately for McIntrye, his rally ended on the first corner of the final stage as he bidded to repeat his storming time earlier in the day.
As McKenna isn’t registered for the Paul Browne Plant Hire & Civil Engineering Junior Irish Tarmac Championship, McIntyre and Wedlock not only lost second place in Galway but also top championship points from the series’ opening round.
Top points instead went to Robbie O’Hanlon and Oisin Joyce who completed Galway’s Junior podium places.
Photo by David Harrigan
Adam Hall, ITRC Press Officer