By Martin Walsh
The Triton Showers-backed Motorsport Ireland National Rally Championship sweeps into Birr on Sunday next for the Pat Horan Motors Camper Centre of Ireland Birr Rally, the second round of the eight event series.
It’s all of twenty years since the rally, organised by the Birr and District Motor Club, returns to the heritage town of Birr in south County Offaly following various stints at locations such as Portlaoise, Roscrea, Nenagh, Templemore and Abbeyleix. The event has grown in stature as a round of the national series and has also evolved from a single stage to a multi-stage event.
A capacity entry will be led by the in-form Monaghan driver Josh Moffett (Hyundai i20 R5), who won the opening round in Mayo a few weeks ago where he took a start to finish victory ahead of Robert Barrable (VW Polo GTi R5) and Stephen Wright (Ford Fiesta R5).
“It’s a tough entry sure enough, Desi (Henry) has the new Fiesta and is still learning the car and Keith (Cronin) is out for the first time in the Polo. I have settled in the Hyundai and I think we are there or thereabouts now in terms of set-up, but it took time to get there. Declan (Boyle) and Peadar (Hurson) are back too and with Garry Jennings on the entry, it will be tough.”
The Birr entry marks the first outing of the season for four time British Rally champion Keith Cronin. The Cork driver will campaign a VW Polo GTi R5 as he gets some seat time ahead of his quest to win the BRC for a record equalling fifth time, he will not register for the Triton series. “Essentially, I am doing the event to get seat time in the car ahead of the BRC, I am close to putting a deal together and this rally (Birr) offers me a great opportunity, especially its format.’ In 2009, Cronin, driving a Mitsubishi Evo IX, won the Raven’s Rock Rally.
Despite Barrable’s absence due to a family commitment, Moffett will have plenty of opposition with Ulster pair Desi Henry (Ford Fiesta R5) and Garry Jennings in a right hand drive Ford Fiesta R5, amongst those providing a formidable challenge. Henry, driving a Hyundai i20 R5 finished second to Moffett on the 2020 event that was based in Abbeyleix.
For Fermanagh’s Jennings, it’s been some four years since he contested a round of the national series. “I am going to Birr to enjoy it and who knows, if I get a good result, I could carry on for the championship.”
Both Donegal’s Declan Boyle and Warrenpoint’s Peadar Hurson had to withdraw from the Mayo event and they will be seeking to secure valuable points as they get their national title bids underway. Interestingly, both are using their Ford Fiesta WRC’s and it will be intriguing to see how their times compare with the R5 cars.
Meanwhile, Monaghan’s Stephen Wright (Ford Fiesta R5) occupies the number seven berth, he finished third in Mayo and a similar batch of Triton points from Birr would be regarded as a success.
Armagh’s Darren Gass (Citroen C3 R5) took time to get to the pace in Mayo and he expects to be much closer to the leaders on Sunday’s six stage event. Former national champion Meath’s Tim McNulty in his right hand drive Ford Fiesta R5 enjoyed his return to the national series in Mayo after an eleven year hiatus, he won the Birr and District Car Club promoted event in Abbeyleix in 2011 before going on to clinch the national title.
The top ten is completed by Maynooth’s Paul Barrett (Ford Fiesta R5), who seemed destined for his best ever finish in a national event until he crashed out of fourth place on the penultimate stage in Mayo.
Meanwhile, Tyrone’s Aidan Wray (Ford Fiesta R5) will be seeking better luck on this occasion having retired during the early stages in Mayo.
Popular Monaghan man Niall Maguire debuted a right hand drive Ford Fiesta R5 on the opening round where he finished fifteenth overall, a higher finish and continued enjoyment are his targets. Maynooth’s Ian Barrett will debut a VW Polo GTi R5 in what will be his first event since the Abbeyleix Rally in 2020. Omagh’s Seamus Leonard (Ford Fiesta R5) also has unfinished business since Mayo as he bids to get a title bid on track.
Donegal’s Kevin Eves (Toyota Corolla) is the top seeded two-wheel drive competitor, no doubt, he will be the barometer in an ultra-competitive category that features Cavan’s Gary Kiernan (Ford Escort), Armagh’s Jason Black (Toyota Starlet), Limerick’s Ed O’Callaghan, Monaghan’s Johnno Doogan, Donegal’s Mark Alcorn, Tyrone’s Frank Kelly and Limerick’s Chris O’Callaghan along with Monaghan’s David Moffett and Dessie Keenan, all in Ford Escorts.
Others on the entry are Monaghan’s Michael Carbin (Mitsubishi), Antrim’s Niall Henry (Ford Fiesta R5), Limerick’s Keith Lyons, Tyrone’s Gareth Sayers and Scotland’s Gordon Morrison, all in Fiesta R5’s.
The rally is also an important event for local drivers such as Templemore’s Paul O’Brien (Ford Fiesta R5), who is seeded at No. 62. Birr’s Mike Garahy (Ford Escort) and Liam Higgins (BMW E30) will be seeking to impress on home territory while Nenagh’s David Forde (Subaru) is also looking forward to competing over the six stages. Elsewhere, the local contingent features Roscrea’s Eoghan Fogarty (Toyota Corolla) and Mountmellick’s Larry Brady (Honda Civic).
The Junior category includes the quartet of Cavan’s Jack Brinton, Clare’s Cathal Nolan, Roscommon’s Daragh Kelly and Tipperary’s Joe Browne, all in Honda Civics.
Seeded Top 10:
1. Josh Moffett/Keith Moriarty (Hyundai i20 R5)
2. Keith Cronin/Mikie Galvin (VW Polo GTi R5)
3. Desi Henry/Paddy Robinson (Ford Fiesta R5)
4. Garry Jennings/Rory Kennedy (Ford Fiesta R5)
5. Declan Boyle/James O’Reilly (Ford Fiesta WRC)
6. Peadar Hurson/Damien Connolly (Ford Fiesta WRC)
7. Stephen Wright/TBA (Ford Fiesta R5)
8. Darren Gass/Noel O’Sullivan (Citroen C3 Rally2)
9. Tim McNulty/Paul Kiely (Ford Fiesta R5)
10. Paul Barrett/Kevin Reilly (Ford Fiesta R5)
Garahy’s Garage, Fortal
First Car Away: 09.00
S.S. 1, 3 & 6 (Knockhill – 15.7km ): 10.00; 12.33 & 14.57
S.S. 2, 4 & 6 (Glenafell – 17.4km): 10. 42; 13.15 & 15.43
Service (Grennan’s of Rath) 09.20; 11.28 & 14.01
Finish Ramp (Garahy’s Garage) Fortal: 16.31
Ritchie’s Mints and Projob Workwear are associate sponsors of the Triton Showers-backed Motorsport Ireland Rally Championship.
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