Ulster Rally Preview- with Art McCarrick
August 23, 2013 by Art McCarrick
The Irish Tarmac Rally Championship gets back into gear this weekend as the Todds Leap Ulster Rally rolls into Enniskillen. Nine weeks have passed since the previous round of the championship in Donegal which provided plenty drama and the Ulster promises to be no different. St. Angelo Airport at Enniskillen hosts the service park for the weekend and crews will rev into action after a ceremonial start in the centre of Enniskillen at lunchtime on Friday. Then it’s straight into the fast, bumpy tarmac lanes with a loop of three stages including high-speed runs over Topped Mountain and around Fardross. The loop is repeated in the evening with the addition of a spectator stage at St Angelo. An early start on Saturday sees the action head north of Enniskillen and includes tests around Sloughan Glen, Carran Bridge with a further two runs over the St. Angelo spectator stage. A slip up by championship leaders Garry Jennings and Neil Doherty in Donegal has blown the championship wide open and a strong Ulster performace will be needed by all the championship hopefuls if they want to take the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship title. Those hopefuls are as follows….
1) Garry Jennings
Jennings heads into the Ulster Rally as the championship leader on 41 points but his lead over Donagh Kelly and Sam Moffett (they are both tied for second in the standings) is only 3.5 points meaning a strong performance this weekend is vital. A disappointing start to the season only saw Jennings take sixth in Galway where bonus points were available but a win in Killarney brought him right back into contention. Jennings was the favourite heading for round 3 in Donegal but a time penalty dropped him to third after he had been comfortably leading the event. With bonus points again on offer for the final round in Cork, a win this weekend could make Garry’s life a lot easier before the championship finale. Neil Doherty will call the notes.
2) Sam Moffett
Sam Moffett heads to Ulster full of confidence following his dramatic win on the Donegal International Rally in June. The Monaghan man drove a faultless rally, staying in touch with the leaders and taking advantage when they faltered. The win marked Moffett’s second win in as many starts in the McKinstry Motorsport Impreza WRC. Moffett is reunited with car again for the Ulster Rally and the move to it from his usual Group N Mitsubishi is a serious statement of intent that the he wants to go after the championship title and abandon his Group N aspirations. While Jennings will be hard to beat on home ground, a mature drive similar to Donegal, would leave Moffett and co-driver James O’Reilly right in the championship hunt heading to Cork.
3) Derek McGarrity
Derek McGarrity is the only previous winner of this rally on the entry list having won the rally back in 2010. Going into this weekend McGarrity finds himself fifth in the championship standings after retiring on the last stage in Donegal but even with that he is only 13 points adrift of championship leader Jennings. McGarrity has recently changed to a Ford Focus WRC and while the car gave trouble in Donegal, the potential was there for all to see. When the Circuit of Ireland ran out of Enniskillen between 2002 and 2004, McGarrity won the rally twice and finished second on the other occasion so he strong previous form in Fermanagh area.
4) Declan Boyle
Declan Boyle has had a season of highs and lows but he comes to Enniskillen in fine fettle having taken the Dunlop Irish National Rally Championship crown on the recent Stonethrowers Rally. While Boyle’s national campaign has been a runaway success, his international campaign has been very frustrating. Third in Galway got the season off to an encouraging start but successive early retirements in Killarney and Donegal (where he initially led) took the wind out of the Boyle’s sails. With nothing to lose this weekend and the national championship in the bag, Boyle may be the one to watch. As ever, Declan’s cousin Brian will call the pacenotes.
5) Donagh Kelly
Like Derek McGarrity, Donagh Kelly has also made the mid season switch to a Ford Focus WRC and Donagh has been creeping steadily up the leader board this year. A steady fifth in Galway was followed by a third in Killarney and his debut drive in the Focus netted a fine second place in Donegal for Kelly and co-driver Kevin Flanagan. This consistent scoring leaves Kelly tied with Moffett for second in the championship. The Sligo Stages has been Donagh’s only competitive action since Donegal but it ended with an off so it may take a few stages for him to get his confidence back in the Airtricty backed car. A win this weekend may be a tall order but another consistent finish here will help keep the championship dream alive.
Group N & Nationals
Group N looks like it will be a shootout between Stephen Wright and Josh Moffett. Wright’s pace this season has been genuinely impressive in the ex Garry Jennings Evo 9 and a Group N win on the last round in Donegal was richly deserved. Wright’s performances have place him fourth overall in the championship with a haul of 34 points. Josh Moffett only has 13 points heading to Enniskillen but Sam’s younger brother will be out to make up the points deficit having ground to a halt in Donegal with gearbox problems. Rory Byrne, William Mavitty and Shane Maguire form the rest of the Group N entry but on current form it looks like we’ll see a battle royale between Wright and Moffett this weekend.
The Ulster National Rally has drawn a sizeable entry and it’s headed by Frank Kelly who arrives at the Ulster having earned the “Mark Two Master” title at the recent Jim Walsh Cork Foresty Rally. A dramatic late charge saw Frank finish top Escort on that event and he currently lies third in the modified standings. Despite only picking and choosing rallies this year, a good result this weekend may make Frank think twice about contesting the Cork 20 in October, especially as Billy Coogan (second in the modified challenge) hasn’t entered the Ulster. Camillus Bradley is another quick Escort man and he is seeded at number 2 but it’s a car that Bradley built that leads the points in the modified challenge. Fergus O’Meara is making the long trip north from Kerry and a good finish here could make his title dreams a formailty when Cork rolls around. Chris Armstrong has also entered after a mid season break and the Cavan man has breathtaking speed at times in his 2 litre Escort. He has however, been given a low seeding but if he can overcome that obstacle watch the blue Escort fly. The national winner may come from a World Rally Car however with Paddy McVeigh, Derek McGeehan and Emma McKinstry all enetered in the powerful machines. Paddy McVeigh in particular, has shown a promising turn of speed lately in his S10 Impreza WRC and with the changeable conditions that the Ulster always brings the Impreza should be able to find more grip than the rear wheel drive challengers.
International – Garry Jennings
National – Paddy McVeigh
Historic – Wesley Patterson
Rally NI – Alastair Fisher