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JEN­NINGS ENDS GAL­WAY DROUGHT Subaru driver puts bad luck be­hind him as Keith Cronin opens the new R5 era. By

Motor Sport News - - Rally Reports - RE­SULTS Arm­strong Gal­loway Hills Rally Pho­tos: Roy Demp­ster

he last time Gary Jen­nings sat in a WRCspec Subaru Im­preza com­pet­i­tively, it was on fire – lit­er­ally – as his hopes of win­ning a record third Ul­ster Rally slipped away.

How­ever, there was no stop­ping the Fer­managh man as he and co-driver Rory Kennedy re­mained on fire in form terms only to take a rally win in Gal­way which had eluded Jen­nings for many years – a rare event he hasn’t won pre­vi­ously. As his ri­vals slipped away, the fi­nal mar­gin of vic­tory was more than three min­utes.

The open­ing day con­sisted of a trio of stages re­peated three times, over mostly nar­row, muddy and wet coun­try roads. It was fever pitch in the ser­vice area as the Ir­ish Tar­mac Rally Cham­pi­onship pre­pared to usher in a new era of R5 and S2000-spec cars be­ing the quick­est el­i­gi­ble ma­chines to score points to­wards the cham­pi­onship. WRC cars now score in the WRC Cup and can net over­all wins, but don’t score to­wards the over­all cham­pi­onship any­more.

Jen­nings opened his score with a fastest time, seven sec­onds up on Ford Fi­esta WRC driver De­clan Boyle. The first test proved even more treach­er­ous than ex­pected with mul­ti­ple cars off the road at var­i­ous points, one of those be­ing Tim Mcnulty, 2011 cham­pion, who hasn’t com­peted since his ti­tle-win­ning year. Mcnulty’s sur­prise re­turn came in a Derek Mcgeehan-shaped Mini WRC, but the sil­hou­ette was al­tered when he ran wide and fell vic­tim to the slippy roads. The ra­di­a­tor was the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin on what sadly be­came a very short come­back.

Mcnulty did block the stage for a short while, mean­ing a hand­ful of cars were given a no­tional time. This af­fected most of the top R5 con­tenders. Jonny Greer (Citroen DS3 R5) and Desi Henry (Skoda Fabia R5) were the first two cars to then drive the stage com­pet­i­tively and cer­tainly it gave Henry an edge, al­though not Greer. In stage two Jen­nings was again fastest, while three­time Bri­tish cham­pion Keith Cronin was the quick­est of the R5 driv­ers in his DS 3.

In stage three – the fi­nal run of the first loop – the story was much the same at the front, with Jen­nings edg­ing Boyle – his only se­ri­ous chal­lenger. The lat­ter was un­happy with his Fi­esta’s han­dling and trailed Jen­nings by 21s at ser­vice in Por­tumna. Boyle raised his Fi­esta’s sus­pen­sion, to in­duce more body lean and pos­si­bly in­crease the grip. Desi Henry made the most of his early ad­van­tage and backed it up with de­cent times through stages two and three to lie third in his Skoda. How­ever, Cronin was the fastest R5 man and he was up to fourth, with Alas­tair Fisher (Ford Fi­esta R5) just 1.7s back in fifth. Sam Mof­fett was only 4.3s be­hind Fisher, so it was game-on be­tween the R5 men and a bril­liant bat­tle in the cham­pi­onship’s new era.

At the front of the rally there was a ma­jor drama in stage six, Fair­field, when for­mer cham­pion Boyle crashed his Fi­esta WRC on a fast left over a nar­row bump bridge. He’d been caught out un­der brak­ing on the muddy, wet and bumpy sur­face and his rally was over with the Fi­esta need­ing some se­ri­ous re­pair. He had es­caped ear­lier when he slid wide at a 90-de­gree-left turn and iron­i­cally re­moved a ‘stop’ sign.

On the fi­nal loop of Satur­day stages Jen­nings ex­tended his lead to over two min­utes from Keith Cronin. Fisher was third in his se­cond ma­jor out­ing in a Fi­esta R5. Jen­nings made no mis­takes and pulled clear with haste on Sun­day morn­ing, al­though there were slight wor­ries over his Subaru’s wipers and also the cen­tre dif­fer­en­tial needed a re-map.

Cronin made a slightly shaky start to de­fend­ing his se­cond po­si­tion when his Citroen hit the scenery on the open­ing Sun­day stage. How­ever, he quickly set­tled into the groove and fin­ished with a 16s lead over Fisher in his Fi­esta R5. Sam Mof­fett piled on the pres­sure early in the day and got his Fi­esta R5 ahead of Henry, but then the lat­ter crashed his Skoda in stage 12. Mof­fett was lucky to avoid a wall dur­ing his push, but held on for fourth ahead of a sen­si­ble drive from Roy White in a Wrc-spec Fi­esta.

Eu­gene Mee­gan was bat­tling at the head of the Na­tional cat­e­gory and held the lead im­pres­sively, but he re­tired his BMW 1M fol­low­ing a punc­ture and then an ex­cur­sion in stage 12. This al­lowed Wes­ley Patterson (Es­cort) to claim the Na­tional hon­ours.

In the His­toric sec­tion Ray Cun­ning­ham, dom­i­nated in his Mini Cooper from David Goose (Es­cort) with Luke Mccarthy third in his Porsche 911.

ROAD RALLY ROUND-UP

Three-time West Euro Cup cham­pion Guy Wood­cock made a tri­umphant re­turn to road ral­ly­ing when he and nav­i­ga­tor Steve Her­bert took a re­sound­ing win on the Rali Bry­niau Cl­wyd. They fin­ished the event the best part of a minute clear of the op­po­si­tion, hav­ing led through­out the night.

Dale Fur­niss/ Nick Blox­ham were the only crew to keep in touch with the lead­ers. They dropped time at four con­trols, the same as Wood­cock did, but only beat the win­ners on one of them. Ian ‘Dude’ Roberts/ Gwawr Hughes were four min­utes off the lead in third.

Mark ‘GT’ Roberts/steve Price were in fourth at Petrol but with­drew at the halt due to a mis­fir­ing en­gine. Pre­vi­ous event win­ners John Paul Wil­liams/ Roger Evans went out at an early stage when a wheel bear­ing col­lapsed on their Subaru Im­preza.

The Bruce Robin­son Me­mo­rial Rally pro­vided Martin Betts/ Richard Hage with their first rally vic­tory for sev­eral years – since 2010 in the case of Hage and 2009 for Betts. They were the only crew to clean the first of four time cards. All con­trols on that card were timed to the minute and Betts/ Hage emerged with a 60s lead. They won, but by the end three other crews were within a minute of them.

Starters:

Date: Fe­bru­ary Cham­pi­onships: ANWCC

Fer­managh man was un­chal­lenged Jen­nings had to re­build car af­ter Ul­ster

Cun­ning­ham beat many more pow­er­ful his­torics for vic­tory

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