Galway classic on the cards as Irish Tarmac opens 2023 season

The 2023 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship is go, and it is set to get off to the best start on the Galway International Rally.

A maximum entry of crews will tackle 15 challenging stages on the west of Ireland’s season opener. While February may throw the elements at us, Galway always delivers its fair share of rally excitement.

Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes top Galway’s big-name entry as they kick off the defence of their 2022 Irish Tarmac title. Last year’s Galway International and ITRC runners-up, Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson, pushed Moffett all the way 12 months ago. The Welshmen are back in their Volkswagen Polo R5 and look closer than ever to seriously challenging for a maiden Irish Tarmac crown.

But the 2023 Samdec International Irish Tarmac Rally Championship is by no means going to be a two-horse race. Sam Moffett has returned to the Rally2 series after a sabbatical behind the wheel of a rear-wheel-drive Toyota Starlet. The 2017 Irish Tarmac Champion is out to balance the books with brother Josh who now holds one more Tarmac title.

2022 was a challenging year for Callum Devine as he got to grips with his Polo R5. The Rally of the Lakes winner was in contention for victories in West Cork, Donegal, and Cork but it just wasn’t to be. The Derry driver is back for more though with his well-fancied Polo and Kerry co-driver Noel O’Sullivan. If Devine finds the sweet spot, he is certain to be fighting right at the front.

Cathan McCourt and Liam Moynihan threatened the top crews in 2022, including a promising spell on last year’s Galway International Rally. They furthered their form with a switch to Citroen’s Rally2 C3 – the Tyrone ace looks set to utilise its credentials in his 2023 title tilt.

Another C3 will be piloted by Robert Barrable who returns to Irish Tarmac action for the first time since 2019. Galway is the Dubliner’s debut event in the Citroen but his skill mixed with the C3’s prowess will be an exciting prospect.

A pair of leading Northern Ireland Rally Championship pilots make their return to ITRC’s curtain raiser bidding for their first International ITRC victories.

Jonathan Greer topped off his run to fourth in ITRC by winning December’s Killarney Historic Rally aboard his Ford Sierra Cosworth. He switches back to the familiarity of his Rally2 Citroen for Galway with many hoping the Down driver commits to a full championship push in 2023.

Desi Henry scored no fewer than seven rally wins in 2022, however, his luck was out on international events. The leading Ford Fiesta Rally2 driver held strong leads on the Circuit of Ireland and Ulster Rally before retiring from both. His presence in Galway will be welcomed by many but certainly feared by his rivals.

The Rally2 count continues including Irish Tarmac Champions Declan Boyle, Garry Jennings, Tim McNulty, and Gareth MacHale. MacHale and Brian Murphy enjoyed a magical return to competition in 2022, topped off with a victory on the Galway Summer Rally.

Elsewhere in the Samdec International category, a string of budding young drivers are staged to battle it out for Rally4 honours. Joseph Kelly, Shane Quinn, Casey Jay Coleman, and Dylan Eves are among the class’s early contenders.

The Modified Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, supported by McEvoy Motorsport in 2023, will continue to thrill fans. Kevin Eves, Gary Kiernan, Marty Toner, and Padraig Egan face a new challenger in Class 14. Jason Black steps up to the 2.5-litre field in his upgraded Toyota Starlet after a season of top results in 2022. Conor Murphy, Martin McGee, and Mark Alcorn are further names capable of challenging for modified glory in Galway.

The Synergy Motorsport Historic Irish Tarmac Championship will likely have a new points leader after Galway with top points scorers in Killarney, Neil Williams and Anthony O’Sullivan focusing instead on West Cork. Fergus O’Meara, Tom Clark, and Duncan Williams are readily positioned to fight for that prize in Galway.

The Ford Escort crews will face stiff opposition from Ray Breen and Damien Morrissey’s Subaru Legacy which could suit the slippery conditions in February. 

Gareth Lloyd and David Byrne’s BMW M3 adds extra variety to the historic field along with Trevor Wilson and Paul Mulholland’s pristine Porsche 911.

Donegal’s Iarla and Jack Carty are the sole front-wheel-drive competitors in the Synergy Motorsport category, campaigning their hard-charging Vauxhall Nova.

10 of the Historic ITRC crews will travel from England and Wales, a healthy contingent ready to take the battle to local rivals like Ross and Aaron Forde who will be hoping to build on their strong Killarney Historic result on their home round.

11 Juniors have entered ITRC’s opening round of 2023. Monaghan’s Jack McKenna leads the way in his Honda Civic ahead of 2022 campaigners John Michael Kennelly and Darragh O’Donovan. The Junior Irish Tarmac Rally Championship is proudly sponsored by Paul Browne Plant Hire & Civil Engineering in 2023.

Photo by Ruaidhri Nash