Honda Cup Ireland – Round 1

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West Cork Rally 20th & 21st March 2010

The opening round of this year’s Honda Cup Ireland took place over the weekend of 20th 21st March and saw six of the ten registered crews enter for this classic tarmac rally based in Clonakilty, County Cork. In an unusual turn of events, the first day was to decimate the Honda Cup field and, for the first time in the history of the series, not one of the cars made it to the finish.

However, that didn’t stop a great battle developing in the early stages – a factor which is destined to see close competition between the Hondas throughout the season. The West Cork Rally featured eight stages on Saturday and a further eight on Sunday, many of which are regarded as some of the best rallying roads in the country.

First to line up at the start of SS1 were Jack Newman and co-driver Tom Murphy in their Super-Production Civic EG6.  However, it was never going to be an easy day for them, as Newman was suffering from flu and accepted that he wasn’t going to be battling for the lead during the weekend. Added to this, he was unhappy with his car’s handling and he would have to wait until the first service halt after two stages to rectify the problem.

This saw Richard Whelan/Colin Fitzgerald in another Super-Production EG6 set the early pace, recording the fastest HCI time on SS1. But their glory was short lived when, on the very next stage, the car threw its alternator belt, which in turn damaged the crankshaft sensor and effectively immobilised the engine, putting them out of the rally.

The opening pair of stages was also unkind to Kieran O’Connell/Gerard Buckley, their Open-Class EP3 Civic’s engine not performing when the V-tec system failed to do what it should. A similar issue was also slowing Gavin Walsh/Ger Keohane’s Super-Production Civic EG6, the problem diagnosed as a faulty temperature sensor and the consequent lack of power meant they could not take advantage of their local knowledge.

For Gary and Niamh Caldwell it was also a frustrating start, their problem being that of the brakes which caused them a few heart-stopping moments trying to slow their Production-Class EP3 Civic down before the corners. First-loop problems also befell John Moran/Dave Cummins who damaged their Super-Production EK4 Civic’s exhaust on a heavy landing only 1.5 miles into the first stage.

With all crews experiencing troubles in some shape or form, it was anyone’s race and an opportunity for someone to make the most of the reduced field.  On a positive note, at the first service halt all drivers reported that they were delighted with the performance of the Pirelli tyres, especially with the grip and wear rates over the abrasive service of the West Cork lanes.

Newman/Murphy improved their pace on the following two stages, the car now handling as it should. But their problems were not over. This time it was the transmission and, without a replacement gearbox, they had no choice but to retire at the second service halt.

O’Connell/Buckley were another crew to retire at Service 2, their car’s engine still not running as Honda intended and, not wanting to risk even more damage, they took the decision to call it a day. The problem was later traced to a faulty fuel pump, the damaged caused by a hard landing on stage one. Similarly, the engine of Walsh/Keohane was running no better and, with the water temperature dangerously high, they too were to make an early exit.

The Caldwell’s rally was also not improving, their lack of brakes perhaps unsurprisingly seeing them enter the service area with the front of their car not looking very Civic-shaped. On inspection, it was clear that they were to be another victim of the day’s events.

Also with a damaged front end, but now the only HCI competitors still in the running, Moran/Cummins bravely headed out for the next loop of stages. But having damaged the alternator pulley in the earlier excursion, the belt removed itself on SS6 and with no power for the car’s electrics they coasted to a halt, bringing round one of the Honda Cup Ireland to a premature conclusion.

“We are obviously disappointed not to get a result, but in this sport you just can’t predict what’s going to happen”, said Series Coordinator Eugene Meegan. “We are now looking forward to round two, when we hope to see all of the competitors from round one back with their cars repaired and even more competitors joining us.”

The second round of the Honda Cup Ireland is the Leighlinbridge-based Carlow Stages Rally, which takes place on 9th May.

The 2010 Honda Cup Ireland is supported by: Pirelli, Euro M-Sport and Meegan Motorsport. For further information visit: www.hondacupireland.com.

Round one results

Retirements
Richard Whelan (Galway)/Colin FitzGerald – Super-Production – SS2: Engine sensor
Jack Newman (Ashbourne)/Tom Murphy – Super-Production – SS4: Transmission
Kieran O’Connell (Port Laoise)/Gerard Buckley- Open Class – SS4: Fuel Pump
Gavin Walsh (Clonakilty)/Ger Keohane – Super-Production – SS4: Temp Sensor
Gary Caldwell (Oldcastle) Niamh Caldwell – Production Class – SS4: Brakes
John Moran (Claregalway)//Dave Cummins – Super-Production – SS6: Alternator          

Did not start
Jason Ryan/Tadgh O’Sullivan – Super-Production
David Guest/Liam Moynihan – Super-Production
JP Logue/Richard Durning – Open Class
Martin Cunningham/TBC – Super-Production