Galway International Rally Preview with Art McCarrick
February 2, 2013 by Art McCarrick
The traditional season opener in the West always throws up a few surprises and the 2013 Galway International Rally is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing in a long time. It is conceivable that any one of eight drivers could realistically win this rally and it’s a long time since that has been said about any international event. So let’s take a look at the contenders and their chances.
1) Darren Gass The reigning champion and last years Galway winner will, ironically, be looking to put last year behind him. Darren drove a great championship last year and built on the momentum of his Galway win in a manner that belied his years but it was off the stages that the problems came. A run in with the law on a road section during the Donegal rally and a much publicised drink driving offence took a lot of the gloss off his successful campaign. While his S10 Subaru Impreza is a little outdated against some of the newer machinery, it would be foolish to discount last years winner, especially with a character building couple of months behind him.
2) Derek McGarrity A man known to change cars at the drop of a hat, McGarrity seems to have grown into his S14 Subaru which was a little underdeveloped for Irish tarmac this time last year. McGarrity has since gone on to win the Northern Ireland Championship and while the multiple Circuit of Ireland winner and former tarmac champion has never won in the West, he should not be discounted. A 5th place finish last year is slightly misleading. Some argue that McGarrity lost his edge following a horrific accident on the Manx rally in 2006 but he is a definite dark horse for a result in Galway this weekend. The one thing that is predictable about McGarrity is that he is unpredictable.
3) Keith Cronin On paper, Keith Cronin should win this rally. The talented 26 year old from Cork is already a 3 time British Rally Champion and provided he gets the right breaks, could go a very long way in the sport. Shy and unassuming, blisteringly quick on sealed and loose surfaces, he is easily the class of the field. So what’s the catch? Well, for this rally Keith is stepping up to WRC machinery. Driving the ex Thomas Fitzmaurice S11 Impreza WRC will be a new experience for him but it is worth noting that Keith was beating WRC’s in a Group N Mitsubishi a few years ago. If he can adapt to the car quickly enough (and there is little reason why a driver of his ability shouldn’t), the opposition are in for a long day and we are in for a treat.
4) Garry Jennings Having flirted the WRC machinery in the past, Garry has finally made the permanent step up from Group N. A works driver with Peugeot 10 years ago, Garry was a genuine title contender last year. He was 4th in Galway, 8th on the Circuit, 3rd in Killarney, 1st in Donegal and 2nd on the Ulster. A further glance at the form book will show you that Garry also won the Irish Forestry Championship and the Donegal Harvest Rally. Garry will be debuting a left hand drive S12 Impreza WRC in Galway. The Fermanagh man has insisted there’ll be no heroics and his aim will be to get points on the board and build confidence with the car but if he’s in the hunt with a few stages to go that could all change.
5) Thomas Fitzmaurice Thomas made the step up to a World Rally Car last year and on his debut in Galway finished 9th overall. It was a steady drive peppered with some very quick times as he gained in confidence with the car. Fitzmaurice then focused on the Dunlop National Championship eventually losing out to Brian O’Mahony. On his way to second in the championship though, the Kerry man picked up 2 wins and 2 second places. He is quite literally a dark horse in Galway having switched to an S12 Subaru which is adorned in a stunning, matte black livery. While he will be another adapting to a new mount, if he can build on his encouraging performances last year and capatilise on the mistakes of others, Fitzmaurice could figure in the final shake up.
6) Donagh Kelly Another who made the step up from Group N last year, Donagh Kelly is now finding his feet in his Airtricity backed S11 Subaru Impreza. He finished 4th on the Donegal International last year and was 2nd on the Circuit of Munster. A few retirements made for a somewhat frustrating year but Kelly is committed to doing the whole championship. 8th in Galway last year in a Group N Lancer, Kelly could well be a good outside bet for the championship. Having tested well over the winter to help get a feel for the car, if Kelly can keep out of the infamous dry stone walls in Galway he may be in a position to take advantage of others misfortunes.
7) Declan Boyle The new boy dining at top table of Irish rallying is a very interesting prospect this weekend in Galway. One of the top modified drivers in the country in his 2.5 MK2 Escort, Boyle purchased the ex Tim McNulty S12 Subaru in the second half of last season. Some doubted if he could make the step up in machinery but the doubters were silenced with a debut win on the Galway Summer Rally followed by 2nd place finishes on the Cork 20 and the Donegal Harvest. Boyle is getting quicker in the car with each event and plans to contest the whole championship as well as the Dunlop National series. The last time someone made a serious assault on both championships, they won them. That man was Tim McNulty driving the car Boyle now owns. Who would bet against Boyle doing the same this year?
8) Eugene Donnelly The stats speak for themselves. Donnelly was tarmac champion in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and in 2009. He has won this event 4 times and finished 2nd twice. He has 18 international wins to his name. However, the last of those international wins was all the way back in 2009 on the Ulster rally. Donnelly has only had sporadic appearances since then but did finish 2nd on this rally last year after an almightly attack on the last stage saw him miss out on victory by just 1.3 seconds. Donnelly did last years event in a Mini WRC. The Mini was a bit of an unknown quantity on Irish roads 12 months ago and Donnelly is a notoriously slow starter. Reunited with the McGeehan Motorsport Mini for this rally Donnelly will be hungry to get back on the top step of the podium once again and claim his 19th international win.
The Rest The other WRC mounted drivers for Galway are JJ Fleming and Eoin Doyle. Both in Ford Focus WRC’s, neither would be realistic contenders for victory this weekend but Fleming and Doyle have had interesting results in the past. Fleming has twice finished the Rally of the Lakes in 4th and Doyle finished 3rd on that event in 2011. But that rally is held over 2 days and it is unlikely either will have the pace to challenge for a podium on a 1 day international with an entry of this quality.
Group N The showroom category hasn’t seen a massive entry but should provide an interesting sub-plot to the main event. Reigning Group N champion and former Billy Coleman Award winner, Sam Moffett is back to defend his title. The man from Monaghan could be run close however, by his brother Josh. Both are in Evo 9 Mistsubishis. Sam outpaced Josh for most of last year but a ding dong battle between the brothers in Donegal has hinted that Josh may be a force to be reckoned with this season. Alan Ring should not be discounted in this class either. He finshed 3rd overall in Galway in 2011 but crashed out last year. If his Mitsubishi can keep going, the racing driver turned rally driver will challenge the brothers from Monaghan for Group N honours. The final contender in Group N is the Subaru mounted Shane Maguire. Another man from Monaghan and son of multiple National champion Niall Maguire, Shane actually won a rally outright last year. His pace on internationals is unproven and his N11 Subaru wouldn’t be as developed as the Mitsubishis but last years victory in Sligo should serve as a reminder to his opposition.
The Nationals Like the international section of the event, the national is wide open. Having narrowly missed out on a home win last year Tom Flaherty will be out to go one better in his Escort. Rodney Wilton is rebuilding his confidence after a massive off in Monaghan last year and it is difficult to tell how he will go in Galway. Local man Eamon Dervan is worthy of a mention as too are, Fergus O’Meara, Liam Howlett and Paddy Kiernan. But the winner may not come from any of those. Seeded at 15, Chris Armstrong is the man in form. He surprised many last year with his pace and could do the business here in Galway
Predictions International – Keith Cronin Group N – Sam Moffett National – Chris Armstrong