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