By Ivan Hurley

The Down/Donegal pairing of Jonathan Greer and Niall Burns have taken top honours on the 2022 Rentokil Initial Killarney Historic Rally in dramatic fashion, claiming the win on the very last stage of the event.

In a lead shared with Craig Breen and Aghadoe man Paul Nagle, Greer knew all he had to do was get his car to the finish line of Molls Gap on Saturday evening as a broken drive shaft in Breen’s Ford Sierra Cosworth meant he couldn’t start the final stage.

It was set to be a historic finale, as both Breen and Greer were at a dead heat heading to the final stage of the one-day event. It was the second occasion there was a dead heat, given the timing in rallying it done to the .1 of a second, which was rather unusual.

Breen set the pace in the first stage of the day, Molls Gap, leading from the eventual winner Greer by 0.7 seconds. McCourt was in third, Welsh man Sebastien Ling was 4th with the 2022 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship Neil Williams in 5th.

But Greer fought back in the second stage and at the end of the Ballaghbeama, the pair were tied on the first of the day’s dead heats. KDMC clubman Alan Ring passed Cathan McCourt to move up into the final podium place while Williams remained 5th.

Stage 3 Kilgobnet was the last in the morning loop and all eyes were on the two Sierras of Breen and Greer. It was the Down man causing the world rally star problems and lead despite some brake issues by 1.2 seconds into morning service. But we saw some true sportsmanship at this venture of the event. Breen realised he was having an issue with his diff and it looked to be the end for the Waterford star. But, despite being so close on the times, Greer loaned Breen a spare which meant the battle continued into the afternoon. An act of kindness only seen in the rally world. A misfiring Subaru Legacy still kept Alan Ring in the battle in third place while a spin and a clash with some bales on stage 3 meant Cathan McCourt and Neil Williams swapped 4th and 5th positions. On entry to service, Williams said he lost some 10 seconds or more by simply forgetting to check tyre pressures before starting stage one so should have been further up the leaderboard.

Local man and early rally leader Conor Murphy, who earlier led the modified section surrendered his lead to trail Kevin Eves after the opening 3 stages. 11 seconds the advantage for Eves with late entry Daniel McKenna making up the top 3. It was a disappointing event for Jack Newman who retired with engine issues on SS1.

So back to the Gap for stage 4 and the Craig Breen/Paul Nagle pairing set a blistering time to lead by 3.2 seconds. Ring remained in 3rd, some 12 seconds off the lead. McCourt took nearly 4 seconds off Williams and trailed the 4th placed Welshman by 9 seconds at the finish line on the Kenmare side of the Gap.

It was back to Ballaghbeama for stage 5 and the mountainous pass from Kenmare to Glencar proved a tricky test for the competitors. Although Greer was complaining about brake issues at this venture of the rally, he took 2.2 seconds off Breen on the windy trail and the gap to first was reduced once more to just a second. Ring’s misfiring engine saw him drop a further 3 seconds or so to the top spots. Tyrone’s McCourt was putting huge pressure on our Welsh champion, taking a further 4.7 seconds and the deficit was back to a mere 4 seconds. The all-Killarney club pairing of Fergus O Meara and Mickie Galvin moved to sixth place in a strong showing by the locals.

Stage 6 and the rally’s penultimate stage saw the crews return to the fast Kilgobnet test. A 6:19.4 from Greer was enough to take that second off Breen and we had a dead heat for the second time in the rally with one run over Molls Gap left for the crews after service. Ring dropped off some 6 or so seconds but was safe in knowledge third place was all but secured. McCourt took more time off Williams and only had 1.6 seconds to make up to take 4th overall. O’Meara was going well but a 30-second gap was too much to try to make it into the top 5.

But as crews traversed the road section from Liebherr to Dinis Cottage for the final test, they encountered a stricken Sierra of Craig Breen parked at Muckross House meant the pair were to go no further and as a result, the Waterford/Killarney pairing gave up their crown.

Greer knew that a calm drive up the Gap would be enough to take overall honours and 9:06.9 was enough to secure the rally win. Alan Ring became the highest-placed club member and he and Adrian Deasy finished 30 seconds behind the leader which was to be their second 2nd place finish of the event in as many years.

A stage-winning time for Cathan McCourt was enough to take him ahead of Williams and into the podium positions, a fine drive from the Tyrone man in a town he described as having a great buzz and fantastic events. Breen’s retirement boosted Fergus O Meara and Mickie Galvin into 5th Overall and the highest finishing all Killarney and Kerry crew.

A calm and collective drive by top seeds Kevin Eves and Chris Melly meant the modified trophy is taking a long trip North to Donegal and Eves’ first victory in the Historic Rally. Daniel McKenna took the runner-up spot, some 30.6 seconds off Eves. Johno Doogan beat Dessie Keenan to the final podium spot on the final stage. Jason Black rounded out the top 5 with Denis Hickey the best of the Kerry crews in 8th place.

There were two Class wins for Kerry crews. Class 4 honours went to Noel O Sullivan and Nicky Burke from Killarney while Alan Ring took Class K1 honours with his fine performance and finished second overall.

It was a thrilling day’s rallying in Killarney as the Rentokil Initial Killarney Historic Rally goes from strength to strength. With a record historic entry list of over 70 cars, this event is becoming more and more popular with multiple Welsh crews taking part in their first rally on Irish soil. Killarney truly is the jewel in the crown for historic rallying in Ireland.

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