“R5s have made ITRC ultracompetitive”
This time last year as the Irish Tarmac Championship was approaching the final round in Cork, there were, to say the least, mixed feelings about the decision by the series organisers to concentrate the 2016 Clonakilty Blackpuddingbacked Championship on R5 and S2000 cars.
There was consternation from the men who owned the World Rally Cars, as well as disquiet from the fans who loved the sight and sounds of WRC machinery in full attack down Irish roads.
That final Cork ‘20’ round last year was won by Donagh Kelly in his Focus WRC, which also clinched the Tarmac title for Kelly. However, this was no ‘wham bang’ classic swan song affair. There were no clutches of WRC machines breathing down the Donegal man’s neck. Instead, the interest was on how close secondplaced Keith Cronin could get in his Citroen R5.
Here we are 12 months on and the Tarmac series has had an exciting and interesting a year as any in recent times. Yes, we have had drivers in World Rally Cars win individual rallies, but at times it has been a lonely affair for them. Without the impetus of overall points their enthusiasm has waned.
Keith Cronin, Alastair Fisher, the Moffett brothers – Sam and Josh – Stephen Wright, Jonny Greer and several more have made it an ultra-competitive season in their R5 cars. They have really attracted the fans attention. It would be great to see WRCS battling it out, but there simply aren’t enough of them.
A side issue is that such is the level of competition, along with the R5 upgrades that have been introduced during the year, is that the best S2000 cars can no longer match the R5s.
Joe Mcgonigle is a case in point. He has won rallies such as Shackleton outright in his Skoda S2000, and finished well into the top six in Cork last year. However on events such as the recent Ulster Rally he had to battle very hard just to get into the top ten.
World Rally Cars still dominate in the Triton Showers Irish National Championship of course, and are great to watch. However the right young driver in an R5 could at least shake that regime, even someone for example as fast as Declan Boyle in his Fiesta WRC.
Group N machinery, not so long ago a fascinating secondary feature, is slipping down the result lists. Ford Escort Mk2s have of course their own special place in Irish Rallying. Really though it is the ‘young tiger’ drivers in the R5 cars who are hogging the spotlight now. Interesting times, and the stop watches don’t lie.
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