The Top Part West Coast Rally Championship kicks off this weekend with the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel Rally and there is an unprecedented number of Kerry crews competing on the event.
After weeks of uncertainty, particularly centred on the costs of new safety trackers, Irish rallying as at last settled down and Sunday’s bumper entry is testament to that.
Clubs were able to offer reduced entry fees once Motorsport Ireland announced it would take further time to investigate the potential introduction of trackers in the future.
The announcement last Friday, resulted in a flurry of late entries for the Birr and District Motor Club event and nearly 20 based Kerry crews will take to the start line.
A new season means lots of changes over the winter months.
Former West Coast Champion Mike Quinn returns this season at the wheel of his favoured Ford Escort Mk2 after a few events last season in a Subaru Impreza World Rally Car. He will have a new co-driver too, with Kevin Tydings stepping in the passenger side for the first time.
London-based Kerry co-driver Shane Buckley is likely to be the top Kerry seed alongside Daniel Cronin in a Ford Fiesta R5. They are out on a high-speed test run ahead of the Daniel’s home event, the West Cork Rally in the middle of March.
Vincent O’Shea and Eoin O’Donoghue will debut their newly acquired Darrian T90 DXE.
Defending ladies champion Katie Quinn, Mike’s daughter is back for another full season and she will be hoping to pick up some of the new awards offered to West Coast Championship contenders courtesy of Women in Motorsport Ireland.
Brother and sister crew Andrew and Tara Duggan make a rare start outside County Kerry or County Cork in their Ford Escort but they are a formidable duo wherever they compete and will be well in touch for Class 13 honours.
Ciara Duffin makes her co-driving debut alongside her father, Circuit of Kerry clerk of the course, Eoin in his Ford Escort.
Ger O’Brien and John Liston field a newly built Escort, the Kerry Motor Club team have not been out since last April’s Circuit of Kerry. An engine problem ruled them out of their home event and they spent the intervening months building the new car.
Co-driver Damien Fleming is back alongside his regular pilot, Raymond Conlon and they will drive their usual Toyota Corolla Twin Cam while Ger Somers will co-drive for Raymond Spence in another Escort.
Other local co-drivers include Denis O’Connell who will co-drive for Ed Synan after a year out and Keith McCarthy who is alongside Neil Phelan, both crews in Escorts.
Tralee-based Mark Kane switches from the co-driver’s seat and will steer a hired Subaru Impreza on his home club’s event.
In the Junior element of the rally Alan O’Sullivan is the only Kerry driver entered in his Honda Civic while David Griffin is the sole Kerry driver in the historic section in his Toyota Corolla GT.
Kerry crews have enjoyed good success on the early-season Birr and District Motor Club event over the years. Since its inception in 2000 and despite being run out of different bases and having different names, four Kerry men have won the rally. Paul Nagle took the spoils alongside Aaron MacHale in a Ford Focus in 2007. A year later Diarmuid Falvey hit the top co-driving for Stuart Darcy in a Mitsubishi Lancer.
Thomas Fitzmaurice and Fionn Foley are the only all Kerry crew to win the event, they took the spoils in 2012 in a Subaru Impreza WRC.
This article was originally published in the February 19 issue of The Kerryman. Kerry Motorsport News is the motorsport content provider to The Kerryman.