The 32nd Quality Hotels West Cork Rally took place this past weekend the 20th & 21st March. A full entry of 151 crews were led away by last years winners Liam McCarthy & Kieran Murphy in their Toyota Corolla WRC. Behind them a number of drivers lined up to take their crown, with the most potent threat coming from Tim McNulty & Paul Kiely in their Subaru Impreza WRC. McNulty was using this as a testing exercise before the Circuit of Ireland at Easter and was the pre event favourite. Also in the hunt were previous winners Michael Barrable & Denis Cronin, while J.J.Fleming, Hugh Hunter and Daragh O’Riordan also in WRCs were also capable of showing well. John Dalton from Wales was back in his 2.5 litre Darrian T90 GTR looking to continue his amazing record of being top modified car on the event every year since 2005.
After the overnight rain had cleared, Saturday dawned bright and sunny, with the roads being mainly dry. There were some slippery patches on the first stage at Ballinascarthy, but it was no problem to Tim McNulty who took an early two second lead from Cronin, with last years winner McCarthy just four seconds off the lead in third. First to hit trouble were the number 6 seeds Hugh Hunter & Andy Marchbank who had a puncture and lost almost two minutes. They failed to start stage two due to mechanical problems caused by the flat tyre. Also destined for a short event were Conor Curley who broke a steering arm and Gwyn Thomas who had ECU problems in his Puma. Niall Guinevan also retired his Impreza at the end of the first stage with engine maladies.
Denis Cronin set a blistering time on stage 2, which gave him a 10 second lead from McNulty. McCarthy, Dalton and Kevin Kelleher made up the top five. Kelleher had lost a few seconds on the opening stage as he caught the ailing Focus of Hunter. Daragh O’Riordan was still settling in as he had never driven his new car until the night before but was still setting very good times. Michael Barrable was on his first outing since Wexford 2009 and was a little off the pace and then suffered a puncture losing almost a minute. Scottish visitor Billy McLelland was impressing in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3, despite never having done an Irish tarmac rally before and was in the top 10. Neil Williams who had been one of the favourites for class 13 retired in service after stage 2 when a persistent misfire couldn’t be cured. Brian Lawlor was another retirement when his back axle failed.
McNulty took fastest on stage 3 but it wasn’t enough to wrest the lead from Cronin while McCarthy dropped back a little but held onto third place. Behind them Dalton held fourth and O’Riordan was fifth. Kevin Kelleher and Brian O’Mahony were both stopped on stage 3 and lost three and four minutes respectively. Kelleher had front differential problems and O’Mahony had problems with a tyre coming off the rim after hitting a rock. A repeat of Clogagh was stage 4 and brought the crews into service at the halfway point of the day. Two front runners who would be going no further though were Liam McCarthy and Michael Barrable. McCarthy was off the road and a timber post got jammed between the arch and the wheel causing a long delay. They made it back to service but too much time was lost and they decided to retire. Barrable was also in bother as a wheel rim split down the middle which lost him a mountain of time and he also decided to withdraw.
The battle at the top resumed on stage 5, the classic Ring test, but by the end of the stage, the fight appeared over. Denis Cronin had driveshaft problems which meant he only had three wheel drive over stages 5 & 6, and a minute was lost to McNulty. Cronin was now under threat from Dalton behind. Dalton set a stunning time to be fastest on Ring, but Cronin managed to get a reasonable time on stage 6 Dunworley which according to Dalton didn’t suit his car. Local crew Jason McSweeney and Ruth Guest had a big accident in their Civic towards the end of Dunworley, fortunately without injury to either crew. J.J. Fleming damaged the front of his Impreza when he hit a bank dropping 90 second and costing him a place in the top 5. Billy McLelland lost 7th place overall when he hit a solid West Cork bank at the end of Ring and his rally was over due to a lot of frontal damage.
As the cars tackled the last pair of stages for the day, things had settled down a little at the top end. It was a day of extraordinarily high attrition with only 85 cars making it to parc ferme at the end of day 1. McNulty still led the way by a comfortable margin of just over a minute from Cronin with Dalton just under 50 seconds behind him. Daragh O’Riordan and Sean Flanagan made up the top 5. Washington James was holding a solid sixth place in his Darrian while Bob Fowden and Ed O’Callaghan were also showing well. Drive of the day came from Damien McCarthy seeded at 36 in his 1600cc Honda Civic who had climbed to 9th overall. Ed Murphy led the Historic Rally in his Mk 1 Escort. The Honda Cup saw all six registered drivers that started fail to finish day 1, with the result that nobody has any points going into the second round!
Top 5 at the end of Day 1
1 – Tim McNulty / Paul Kiely Impreza WRC 1:14:26.6
2 – Denis Cronin / Helen O’Sullivan Impreza WRC 1:15:28.5
3 – John Dalton / Gwynfor Jones Darrian T90 GTR 1:16:16.6
4 – Daragh O’Riordan / Tony McDaid Impreza WRC 1:18:29.3
5 – Sean Flanagan / Liam Brennan Impreza Gp N 1:19:59.4
The second day dawned bright and sunny as the previous day although there had been some heavy rain in the early hours of the morning. This meant that the first pair of stages at Rossmore and Sams Cross were extremely slippery and tricky. McNulty had a slight spin early in the stage but it didn’t prevent him from setting another fastest time. Cronin was trying hard but was hindered by a water leak due to engine problems. John Dalton was safe in third place and wasn’t attempting to throw it all away by trying to get in a race with the op 2. Washington James had a spin which cost him some time and allowed Bob Fowden to strengthen his hold on his top six placing. Kevin Kelleher had been 14th overnight but was forced to retire when an oil leak developed when the car left parc ferme. J.J. Fleming also retired due to damage caused by his stage 6 excursion on day 1.
Brian O’Mahony was setting decent times to move his way back into the top ten, while Adrian Hetherington was also in the top ten as he recovered from what was a slow first day by his standards. The repeat of the Rossmore / Sams Cross loop saw Cronin and McNulty take one fastest time each. Ed O’Callaghan leading class 13 in 7th place but Thomas Davies was now in the top ten and challenging the Limerick driver hard as his speed increased. Hetherington was off the road on stage 12 and as a result lost 4 minutes between getting back on the road and dealing with the resultant puncture. Despite the rally heading to its final quarter on the Ardfield peninsula, there was no sign of a let up in the pace. Denis Cronin was still having difficulties with his water leak and also had a damaged rear on the car as he spun to scrub off speed at a junction. This gave McNulty a cushion of two minutes and he was looking very comfortable. Differential problems cost Sean Flanagan fifth place as he began to drop down the order, while Bob Fowden only inherited fifth for a short time as a blown turbo put him out on stage 13. Another top ten runner to disappear was Thomas Davies as he hit a chicane bale on Ardfield and the damage was too heavy for him to continue.
The last pair of stages saw no changes to the top five as drivers settled for their positions. Dalton and O’Riordan were safe in their respective 3rd and 4th positions. Dalton won the Bones O’Connor modified trophy for the 4th consecutive time. Differential problems continued to plague Sean Flanagan and saw him finish 13th and 2nd in Gp N which was a disappointment having held a top ten place all through the event until near the end.
Kevin O’Donoghue was a also a late retirement with gearbox problems. Washington James took advantage of the problems around him and finished fifth overall. Ed O’Callaghan took sixth and class 13, while Damien McCarthy took 7th overall and won class 11. Brian O’Mahony recovered well from his early problems to take 8th and win class 6, while Leonard Downey was 9th. John Buttimer took 10th in his Impreza and also won class 15. The Historic Rally was won by Denis and Dan Moynihan after a great battle with Ed Murphy / Johnny Hickey. Jason & James Frahill won the Juniors in their Honda Civic, while the Civic of Jason Ryan & Tadhg O’Sullivan won the Sunday Run. It was a very successful event which was expertly controlled by Clerk of the Course Darren McCarthy. Tim McNultys name goes on the event roll of honour for the first time and he’s promised to come back to try and win it again next year!
Top 5 Overall
1 – Tim McNulty / Paul Kiely Impreza WRC 2:12:38.4
2 – Denis Cronin / Helen O’Sullivan Impreza WRC 2:14:39.5
3 – John Dalton / Gwynfor Jones Darrian T90 GTR 2:15:57.4
4 – Daragh O’Riordan / Tony McDaid Impreza WRC 2:18:04.3
5 – Washington James / Llinos Davies Darrian T90 GTR 2:22:18.1