KELLY TRIUMPHS IN KILLARNEY AS FISHER TAKES ITRC LEAD
Ford Focus driver win as Fisher scores maximum.
Current Tarmac champion Donagh Kelly, co-driven by Conor Foley, took emphatic back-toback victories in Killarney following on from his West Cork win. Of almost equal significance, Alastair Fisher/ Gordon Noble finished second in their Ford Fiesta R5, which netted the pair maximum Irish Tarmac points and moved them into the lead of the series.
The classic Gortnagane stage between Killarney and Millstreet was the opener this year and Garry Jennings in his Subaru made his intentions loud and clear with a fastest time from Fisher, with Sam Moffett third and first seed Kelly fourth. Jennings had his Impreza revamped since its last outing in West Cork and he was determined to make amends for his performance there. On the West Cork, the car was mapped for rain but the event was dry.
At the end of the opening stage, he said that he had been distracted a couple of times when he caught a glimpse of Kelly’s Ford Focus in the distance. Kelly, along with several of the top drivers, remarked on how much gravel there was on the asphalt stages the event is famous for.
Ed Murphy was fastest of the National crews initially from Eugene Meegan in his BMW 1M. Top National seed Fergus O’meara was third, but his Ford Escort had brake problems and he fell out of contention.
At first service after stage two, Jennings was 10s ahead of Fisher, with Kelly a further three seconds back. Sam Moffett was fourth and the Tarmac points leader starting the rally, Josh Moffett, was sixth having lost a couple of seconds avoiding a dog on a stage. He was then distracted in stage two when a temperature warning light flashed on. Worse was to follow for Josh though as he inverted his Fiesta in stage three, the second run over Gortnagane. Fortunately Josh and his co-driver John Rowan were uninjured.
By stage four, Jennings had extended his lead to 18s over Fisher, with Kelly third but breathing down Alastair’s neck. Jennings was hampered by a disappearing dashboard display, which meant that often he didn’t know which gear he was in. This was eventually traced to a broken wire in the map light and was easily fixed. Sam Moffett reported his Fiesta R5 to be perfect, but he was driving the door handles off it in his effort to reel in Fisher. The latter stayed cool though, and maintained a fabulous pace throughout the first day. Stephen Wright worked up to a decent troublefree tempo in his Ford Fiesta R5 to hold fifth overall through the Saturday afternoon.
At day’s end Jennings had a 27s lead over Fisher, with Kelly just two seconds back from the flying R5. Moffett was driving as hard as he dared to stay in touch with the top three, and was within touching distance. David Guest led Group N despite his Mitsubishi Lancer needing a replacement driver’s side door, which was damaged in a coming together with Keith Cronin’s Citroen at a control.
Paul Barrett was second in Group N with his Subaru Impreza but that was to change on the foggy opening Sunday stage Moll’s Gap. Barrett crashed his Subaru out of the rally at Fishers Bridge. Brian O’keefe had held second Group N early in the event but a broken turbo and gearbox dramas sidelined his Impreza. This left Gus Kearney second in Group N but his Lancer was down on turbo power. This problem was soon rectified.
Despite the dreadful conditions, Kelly set a sparkling time over the infamous Moll’s Gap, 16s faster than Jennings. Perhaps Jennings tried to respond on the next stage, Ballaghbeama, but unfortunately he put his Subaru into the scenery and out of the rally. At the finish of that stage Kelly had thus taken the lead by 13s from Fisher, with Moffett a further 22s back.
Through the following Sunday stages, with the early fog replaced by sunshine, Kelly drove in a very controlled but extremely fast manner to build up a 49s lead over Fisher.
Moffett was relentless in his efforts to close the gap on Fisher, but he couldn’t avoid a large stone in stage 11 and his Fiesta suffered a puncture, which resulted in a 50s gap. Moffett kept trying, but Fisher was cool under pressure to maintain his second place.
The Fiestas of Stephen Wright and Alan Ring followed in fourth and fifth, with Owen Murphy sixth. Murphy was pleased to get to grips with his recently acquired Skoda Fabia S2000 and, despite stalling the car at a stage start and also some wiper troubles, became more competitive through the two days.
Aaron Machale has driven his similar Skoda on a few rallies now, but is still getting accustomed to the brakes on the car and managed seventh place.
Incredibly, only one spot behind was Callum Devine who was quickest R2 after a strong run on the Circuit of Ireland Rally.
Guest in his Lancer had a very clear run to Group N victory and was even able to indulge in testing different tyres in readiness for the Donegal Rally, which is the next round of the Tarmac series. Tipperary brothers Pat and Gus Kearney in their respective Lancers were second and third in the category.
Joe Connolly in his Fiesta R5, and John Mulholland in his ex-ogier Skoda S2000 had a great battle throughout, the former just getting the edge to finish 10th place overall behind Guest.
Outside the top 10, it was another miserable rally weekend for Keith Cronin. His Citroen DS 3 R5 was stationary for 19 minutes between the arrival control and the start of stage one when the brakes seized on. This effectively knocked him out of all contention for the weekend, although he did get the car going and finished the stage. However, despite changing every electrical component on the car, the engine was off song throughout. Keith never gave up trying. He fine-tuned the suspension and, by revving the engine hard, even managed to score a fastest time on the Sunday, eventually finishing 13th of 17 International finishers.
Meegan/sarah Whelan won the National category in their BMW 1M despite severe brake shudder problems over the last five stages. ■
Kelly tamed the likes of Moll’s Gap Fisher continued good R5 form
Guest drive: Group N winner