Competitors are gearing up for the opening stages of the 2010 UTV Drive Circuit of Ireland Rally!
After this morning’s Dundalk Rally Show, crews were flagged away from the Dundalk Courthouse start ramp by singer Jim Corr, and are currently heading towards Newry for first service.
The action begins in earnest at approximately 1.45pm, with the Triton Showers sponsored Doughary stage. It will be followed by the McKinstry Motorsport McGaffin’s Corner at approximately 2.05pm, before crews return to the KDM Hire service B.
The International category of the 2010 UTV Drive event, which is round two of the Citroen Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, sees championship leader, Gareth MacHale, lead the field away.
MacHale, who is in the hunt for his maiden Circuit of Ireland victory, will face stiff competition from three-times winner, Derek McGarrity, as well as Tim McNulty and Aaron MacHale.
Further down the order, there are a few non-starters with Eamon Daly (car 16), Thomas White (car 33) and Mark Sheahan (car 39) all missing from the start list.
Meanwhile, the UTV Drive Circuit of Ireland National Rally, which is round three of the Hankook MSA Northern Ireland Stage Rally Championship, sees last year’s winner, Kenny McKinstry, top the entry.
Donagh Kelly and Kevin Flanagan start at number two in their newly acquired Ford Focus WRC, with Raymond Johnston and Fabian McAleer completing the top three seeds.
Unfortunately, fourth seed, Alan Carmichael and Ivor Lamont, have been unable to make the start. Fintan McGrady (car 10), Keith McIvor (car 29), Ruairi McCloskey (car 31), Damien Hagan (car 45) and Niall Creighton (car 46) are also among the non-starters.
The National Rally field will follow the International crews on the stages. More details can be found online at www.circuitofireland.net.
STOP PRESS: Stage three has been shortened by approximately one kilometre from the finish. Recent heavy rain has made it unsafe to pass the ford towards the end of the test. The finish line is now located before the ford.
Tim McNulty and Paul Kiely have taken the early lead after the opening stage of the 2010 UTV Drive Circuit of Ireland Rally.
McNulty emerged from the Triton Showers Doughary test in his Subaru Impreza WRC almost nine seconds faster than three-times winner, Derek McGarrity.
McGarrity, who has James McKee navigating, stalled at junction three, losing some valuable seconds.
Craig Breen and Gareth Roberts are third with their Ford Fiesta S2000, just ahead of Alistair Fisher and Marshall Clarke.
Gareth MacHale and Brian Murphy lost 24 seconds to the event leaders, and they hold a provisional fifth from Kevin Barrett a Sean Mullally.
A number of crews have already hit trouble during those opening miles. Aaron MacHale and Eugene O’Donnell lost more than one minute in their Focus WRC.
Further down the order, Conor Harvey and Gerard Callaghan retired after losing control over a small crest. Their Honda Civic R3 is minus a real wheel.
Stage times are still filtering through from stage one, so all times and positions mentioned are provisional.
Tim McNulty and Paul Kiely have extended their advantage on the McKinstry Motorsport McGaffin’s Corner stage two. They now lead the International Rally by 15.9 seconds from former winners, Derek McGarrity and James McKee.
Daragh O’Riordan and Tony McDaid, who are seeded 15th, are in an impressive third with their Subaru Impreza WRC, while Alastair Fisher and Marshall Clarke have moved up to fourth and head the Group N standings.
Gareth MacHale set third fastest time on stage two, but was still 10 seconds adrift of pacesetter McNulty. MacHale and Brian Murphy hold fifth overall with Craig Breen and Gareth Roberts completing the top six.
Stage times have yet to filter through from the National Rally but reports are coming in that leading two-wheel-drive entrant, Frank Kelly, have been off the road during the early part of the stage.
Tim McNulty and Paul Kiely continue to lead the UTV Drive Circuit of Ireland International Rally after stage four, Mourne Properties Tyrone’s Ditches.
As the rain pounded the tarmac lanes, McNulty has kept a steady pace, and leads Alistair Fisher by 16.5 seconds.
Fisher, who has navigator Marshall Clarke on board, mounted a charge over stages three and four in his production category Mitsubishi Lancer, displacing Derek McGarrity from second position.
McGarrity still holds third, just a couple of seconds behind the Fermanagh man, and more than 20 seconds ahead of Daragh O’Riordan and Tony McDaid.
There have been a couple of major retirements from the rally. Kevin Barrett and Sean Mullally were off the road on stage two, and although they made it back to service, they were 90 seconds too late out of service.
Craig Breen and Gareth Roberts have also retired, after sliding their Fiesta S2000 off the road on stage three. Richard Cathcart also had a scary moment when he overshot a junction on stage one, losing 10 seconds. He later had an altercation with a bank but he and Martin Brady survived to tell the tale!
In the National Rally, after stage two, Kenny McKinstry and Noel Orr head the standings by more than one minute. Donagh Kelly and Kevin Flanagan were an early second but they retired their Focus WRC before the end of stage two.
John Waring and Alan Whyte are embroiled in a battle for second with Camillus Bradley and Danny O’Neill. Both crews are in Mark 2 Escorts, and fourth placed Raymond Johnston isn’t too far adrift with his Mitsubishi Lancer.
Crews are now at Banbridge’s Solitude Park and will complete two more stages before returning to service in Newry at 6.55pm.
Alastair Fisher and Marshall Clarke have snatched the lead of the UTV Drive Circuit of Ireland International Rally!
Early leader Tim McNulty lost more than one minute on stage five with a puncture, dropping him to fifth overall.
Fisher moved into the number one slot with his production category Mitsubishi Lancer, and headed Derek McGarrity by eight seconds after that fifth test. He extended his advantage by a further five seconds on stage six, while Derek McGarrity is reportedly in trouble with a suspected fuel problem.
Daragh O’Riordan and Tony McDaid hold third in their Impreza WRC, with Garry Jennings and David Moynihan fourth ahead of a recovering Tim McNulty and Paul Kiely.
Crews are now heading back to service in Newry before tackling three further stages, including a gruelling 18-mile night test.
Alastair Fisher and Marshall Clarke have again extended their lead at the head of the UTV Drive Circuit of Ireland International Rally field after stage eight.
The production category crew have astounded their rivals, having set three fastest times out of the last four stages.
Derek McGarrity identified a cracked pipe in service, which was the cause of his earlier fuel leak. His car has been restored to full health but Fisher appears to have the measure of his rivals.
Early leaders, Tim McNulty and Paul Kiely, have recovered to third overall after their earlier puncture. The Impreza WRC crew nipped in front of Garry Jennings and David Moynihan, while Gareth MacHale and Brian Murphy are now in third.
Richard Cathcart and Martin Brady complete the top six crews while Daragh O’Riordan has dropped to seventh after a problem on stage seven.
In the National Rally, Kenny McKinstry and Noel Orr now have a three minute lead over Raymond Johnston and Fabian McAleer.
Camillus Bradley had been embroiled in a battle for second with John Waring but Bradley went off the road and into retirement on stage four.
Mark 2 Escort powered Waring has lost some ground to his four-wheel-drive rivals, but is holding a solid fourth behind Emma McKinstry and Kenny Hull in their Impreza WRC.
Crews are now getting ready to tackle the mammoth 18-mile night stage, which starts shortly before 9.20pm. It will really sort the men from the boys!
Tonight’s 18-mile night stage saw Citroen Irish Tarmac Championship leader, Gareth MacHale, really take the challenge to his rivals.
MacHale and navigator Brian Murphy emerged from the test 13 seconds quicker than Derek McGarrity, while event leader, Alastair Fisher, was 31 seconds adrift.
Fisher holds on to the UTV Drive Circuit of Ireland Rally overnight lead, but McGarrity will be breathing down his neck tomorrow. Only 13.2 seconds separate the two pilots.
MacHale’s scorching time through the ninth stage moved him into third overall, a few seconds ahead of Tim McNulty and Paul Kiely.
Garry Jennings and David Moynihan had held fourth overall going into leg one’s final test, but they have disappeared from the leaderboard.
Richard Cathcart and Martin Brady are fifth while Daragh O’Riordan and Tony McDaid are now sixth ahead of John McGlaughlin and Crawford Henderson.
Martin McCormack and Dai Roberts are the leading two-wheel-drive crew. They hold an overnight position of ninth overall.
In the National Rally, after stage eight, Kenny McKinstry and Noel Orr have almost five minutes in hand over his daughter, Emma McKinstry, who has Kenny Hull calling the pace notes.
Raymond Johnston had held second but it appears he has hit some sort of trouble on stage eight, Mourne Properties Tyrone’s Ditches.
Johnston’s issues have promoted Emma into second overall, with John Waring and Alan Whyte third overall ahead of Michael Conlon and Adrian Boyle.
Action for the International Rally will resume tomorrow morning, with six stages on the agenda. However, the National Rally competitors have yet to contest tonights 18-mile test, and they will face an additional two stages over Gullion before they can get to their beds for a much needed rest!