Cork 20 International Rally Preview- with Art McCarrick
October 4, 2013 by Art McCarrick
The Irish Tarmac Rally Championship rolls into Millstreet this weekend for the Cork 20 International Rally. Since 1993, Cork has provided the final round of the championship and over those 20 years the event has thrown up a few real surprise results. James Cullen taking an outright win in a Group N Escort Cosworth in ‘93, Stephen Finlay throwing away the title in ’94, Gabriel Snow taking a surprise win in ’96 and Ian Greer doing the same in ’98 are the ones that immediately spring to mind but the championship contenders this year will be hoping for no such surprises.
Garry Jennings heads to Cork at the summit of the championship standings. The Fermanagh based driver will once again team up with experienced co-driver Rory Kennedy and Jennings doesn’t even need to win in Cork to take his maiden Irish Tarmac Championship. With dropped scores from the opening round in Galway taken into account Jennings’ total of 63 becomes 52 while Donagh Kelly, who lies second in the championship goes from 49.5 to 39 points. With points and half on offer in Cork there is 24 points up for grabs plus bonus points at the end of each leg. If Kelly is to succeed in his outside chance at the title though he’ll definitely need to outpace Jennings, possibly win or hope for Jennings to non finish. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility (Bertie Fisher won his first Tarmac Championship in similar circumstances in 1990) but Jennings is definitely the favourite ahead of this weekend and while being very consistent this year, Kelly and co-driver Kevin Flanagan will have to find some extra speed to make the miracle happen.
While the title will be a shootout between Jennings and Kelly, I have a feeling that neither of them are going to take the win this weekend. Seeded number 1 this weekend is Daragh O’Riordan and the man from Midleton has previously won the Cork 20 in 2011 and in 2012. On paper that looks good but O’Riordan’s form has been erratic this year since switching to a Ford Fiesta WRC. Steady showings in West Cork, Monaghan, and the Galway Summer rallies are contrasted by a disappointing Donegal which was marred with set up issues and very encouraging runs in Killarney and Tipperary until the Fiesta left the road on both occasions. O’Riordan’s Killarney pace was genuine though and with all his wins to date coming in Munster, this could be the rally that O’Riordan returns to the top step.
If he makes it through the opening stages, the closest challenger to O’Riordan could well be Declan Boyle. Boyle finished runner up to O’Riordan on this rally last year but it was a distant second and Boyle was still adapting to his then new-to-him Subaru Impreza WRC. This season has seen Boyle excel in the car claiming the Dunlop Irish National Championship with ease, winning 5 out of 6 events he contested. His luck in the Tarmac Championship has been appalling however. After an eye catching third place in Galway, the following three rallies have seen Boyle go no further than the second stage and over the weekend in Cork, Boyle will be desperate to try and take a first international win. Cork has been kind to many looking for that elusive first international win as Ian Greer, Eamonn Boland and Tim McNulty can testify. Maybe Boyle can join the club come Sunday evening?
Behind Jennings, Kelly, O’Riordan and Boyle are a pair of Subaru mounted Kevins. Seeded at number 5 Kevin Kelleher will be looking for a good run in his S9 Impreza WRC and the local man is definitely capable of a strong finish. If the car keeps going a podium is definitely within his reach. At 6 is Maynooth’s Kevin Barrett. Kevin has recently switched to an S14 Impreza WRC and Kevin is taking time to adapt to his new mount. A recent podium finish on the Clare Stages offers some encouragement but a win will be a bridge to far this weekend.
Group N has attracted a very strong entry but the focus will be firmly on Stephen Wright and Josh Moffett. Wright currently heads the Group N standings but has yet to drop a score. Dropping his lowest score leaves Wright on 53 points heading to Millstreet and Moffett, who has no points to drop having non finished in Donegal, is also on 53 points. It’ll be a straight showdown between the pair and with little to separate them this year, this weekend should be no different. Both can lay claims to victory, Wright has impressed
many this year increasing his pace all season in the ex Garry Jennings Evo 9 Lancer with one of his best drives coming a few weeks ago in Clare where he took second overall, keeping Donagh Kelly honest and beating Kevin Barrett. Moffett meanwhile, comes to Cork having netted his second Group N title this year on the gravel in Omagh last weekend.
Group N has proved so competitive this year that; of all the rounds to date nobody has won the category twice. Alan Ring won in Galway, Sam Moffett in Killarney, Stephen Wright in Donegal and Josh Moffett on the Ulster. Reigning Group N champion Sam Moffett is entered for Cork but the man who won Donegal outright this year may be enlisted to help brother Josh try take the title instead and while the Moffett brothers and Wright make up the championship regulars there is a trio of other entries capable of taking the Group N win. Owen Murphy is a former Billy Coleman Award winner, won Group N on the Cork 20 last year and should be well on the pace with James O’Brien on the notes. Colm Murphy (no relation) is another serious contender and the Limerick man has been one of the quickest Group N drivers in the country for a decade but his N12 Subaru Impreza may not have the grunt of the Evo 9 Mitsubishis favoured by the others. Sebastian Ling is taking his Mitsubishi over from Wales to contest Group N and he finished 6th overall in Cork in 2010 where he also finished ahead of Owen Murphy.
In the National section of the rally Roy White is the favourite in his rapid MG and as long as it stays running, he won’t get beaten by a 2 wheel drive car. The Modified Challenge section of the championship is poised similarly to the Group N section with Frank Kelly and Fergus O’Meara both tied on 30 points heading to the final round. O’Meara started off the season strongly but a non start in Donegal and a non finish on the Ulster have halted his progress somewhat. Still, the man from Kerry is capable of victory. Frank Kelly on the other hand has been flying of late on tarmac and gravel and will be going all out to finish ahead of O’Meara. Should either O’Meara or Kelly make a mistake, Noel O’Sullivan is poised only 8 points behind. Outside of the Modified Challenge runners there are some very rapid Escorts entered including Phil Collins, Wesley Patterson and Ed O’Callaghan
While the rear wheel drive cars will cause a stir, there are a few Honda Civics entered that may ruffle a few feathers. Damien
McCarthy is seeded at number 20 and has carried out some giant killing acts in the past and will be flying here as will recently crowned junior champion Rob Duggan who steps up to the main field this weekend. Luke McCarthy and Bernard Foley are quick Honda men but Noel Kelleher could be the man to watch. He set notable times in Clare recently after a lay off and shouldn’t be far away this weekend. James O’Mahony should take the Historic title this weekend as Wesley Patterson has entered the National section instead but it’s car H2 where a lot of the interest will lie. With the rally being based in Millstreet this year, top historic runner Mark Falvey decided it would only be fitting if he brought a little Coleman magic back to Millstreet. Falvey campaigns the ex Billy Coleman Mark 1 Escort (MEV 36J) that took the Millstreet Maestro to British Championship glory in 1974. On the 1974 Manx Rally, Peter Scott called the notes for Billy in that car and 39 years later Scott will be reunited with the car for the first time this weekend where he’ll navigate for Falvey.
The action kicks off on Saturday morning and the Munster Car Club have laid on a very compact and challenging route in the Millstreet area. Further information can be found on http://www.cork20internationalrally.com