The Galway international rally spelled the opening of the closed roads season in Irish rallying with the first round of the Irish Tarmac Championship which would bring the crews on a high speed tour of the back roads and lanes of Athenry on the Saturday and Tuam on the Sunday. There were a number of Cavan motor club crews in attendance with a view to taking top honours in one of the most prestigious championships in Western Europe.
Bailieborough man James Fulton would take his place in the top 10 entries calling the much needed pace notes to Monaghan man Josh Moffett in their Fiesta R5. The event started well for them as they punched in a number of top 10 times to settle into 6th overall at the first service with the conditions being more than treacherous for the opening day with mud and gravel being a main feature to the roads. Disaster would strike the pair on the 5th stage when they would strike a rock on the line causing an instant puncture. With the puncture happening around the half way point of the stage they were forced to drive to the end loosing 3 minutes in the process and plummeting them down the leader board to 11th. For the rest of the event they would be mount a spirited attack on the leaders to try and regain ground but with the opening two stages on the Sunday being cancelled on safety grounds due to the extensive ice they would run out of road quickly and with that could only regain 7th overall and 5th place championship points.
For top national runner Gary Kiernan the weekend would go a lot better with the Kiernan Milling mk2 guided by Limerick man Keith Moriarty on what would turn out to be one of the toughest races the Galway roads would witness for some time. The day would start well with the crew being fastest on the road but a slight timing indiscretion would see them take a 15 second penalty, a rare slip by the reigning 2wd tarmac champion navigator. As the day would go on the pairing would settle into their rhythm setting top 3 times and keeping touch with the lead pair in very tricky conditions.
Also running in the national section would be the Honda Civic of Mountain Lodge man Darren O’Brien with Kaine Treanor on the notes as the crowds flocked to watch the Civic being driven with its usual gusto and putting a lot more powerful cars to shame by setting a top 10 time on the opener. A nominal time on stage 2 thanks to a blockage would drop them to 14th overall. Things were going well on stage 3 with another top time coming when the clutch cried enough forcing the crew to limp into service and retirement for the day. They would return for the Sunday run to show what they could do and set some blistering times but a drive shaft issue on the final stage would really underline their weekend’s story.
Another crew in technical maladies over the weekend would be Pauric Sheridan and Sean Brunton in their unusual Fiesta Proto which is a combination of Lancer evo running gear in a Fiesta body shell. With this car’s new design and recent inception there will of course be a teething phase and with the car suffering from an ECU fault early on the Saturday morning it would be a weekend of testing for the crew opting to super rally for the rest of the Saturday. 2nd in class and 26th overall would be their reward for a tough weekend in the office.
Back at the front and Kiernan would finish a challenging first day of the event in 2nd place overall in the national section and ready to launch an attack on the 24 second deficit Damien Tourish had built up over the first day on the stages that suited the Donegal man with his extensive forestry experience. With the opening 2 stages cancelled due to the ice and with the second stage being shortened due to the conditions it was going to be a tall order for Kiernan and Moriarty to reel in Tourish but they would give it a go making their intentions clear on the opening stage taking 4 seconds back in just 7km. On the following full length stage they would carve another 7 seconds on the clear of muck but still patchy wet stage and with 2 stages to go the lead would be down to 12 seconds. With the mounting pressure being piled onto Donegal man Tourish he would make a small blunder by jumping the start of the penultimate stage and landing himself with a 30 second penalty. On the stage itself the Sean Brady Construction and Engineering car take another second on their rivals with one stage to go. On the final stage with the penalty not official yet the race was still on with Gary and Keith going into the stage on a full mission with disaster nearly striking the crew on the first junction where the back of the car stepped out into the hedge for 50 meters which caused a little heart stopping moment for the crew. They would push on regardless and demoralise the opposition taking another 11 seconds out of Tourish to win the National section of the rally in what would be one of the come backs of recent times.
In the junior section John Mc Cabe would take the helm of his Honda Civic with Stephen Doogan on the notes to a comprehensive start to finish victory in his title bid for the tarmac junior title this year. With his rivals never getting any closer than 11 seconds a stage to him he would show his intentions for the year and dominant form.
Next up for the teams chasing the Clonakilty Black Pudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship is a trip to the sponsors home country of West Cork for the Clonakilty Stages on St. Patricks weekend.