R5s TO THE FRONT: DID IT WORK?
The Irish Tarmac Championship changed rules in 2016. Jack Benyon argues it was for the better
ontroversial. It’s the only word you can use to describe the Irish Tarmac Championship’s change of rules for 2016. And it was change of fundamental importance.
For years, Ireland had the mantle of having more World Rally Cars per square mile than any other country in the world. You know the story: Bertie Fisher, Austin Mchale, Andrew Nesbitt. The world’s fastest rally cars and some of the narrowest, fastest and best Tarmac roads, at least outside of mainland Europe.
But the championship took a new direction. The organisers elected to make the R5-specification cars the fastest eligible to score points in the championship, with World Rally Cars still allowed to enter under a separate cup. Could WRC cars win events? Yes. Could they win the Irish Tarmac Championship? Nope.
The crux of the argument was simple. Those with WRC cars wanted a few years of transition to phase out the 1600cc WRC cars which were introduced in the WRC in 2012. They also wanted the fastest cars on the fastest roads.
The counter argument was also simple. The WRC cars were decreasing in numbers, and almost every major national rally championship in the world had either switched to, or was switching to, R5s at the front. Competition was the backbone of that argument.
So the decision was made. R5s to the fore, WRCS to the sheds. There’s enough sheds in Ireland filled with some of the WRC’S best cars as it is.
David Gray, chairman of the Tarmac Rally Organisers’ Association (TROA), which organises the Irish Tarmac Championship, explains the decision.
“It was made because in 2015 the majority of the TROA saw a championship falling apart with two or three World Rally Cars competing at the front, and not consistently,” says Gray. “We felt we had to do something different. It was quite clear listening to competitors that the R5 was going to be the car to have. We had pledges from all sorts of competitors saying ‘go down that route and we’ll provide the cars’. And they did. It was 15 or 16 in Galway.”
With big launches like the ITRC in Galway came the risk of an unfulfilled prophecy, and entries dropping away through the year. But on a ratio of entries lost per round, the ITRC performed better than the British championship this year.
The battle was fought between Keith Cronin, Alastair Fisher, Josh Moffett, Sam Moffett and Jonny Greer. Three-time British champion Cronin won the opening two rounds and looked like a dead cert for the championship. But wins for Fisher on the Circuit of Ireland, Rally of the Lakes and the Ulster put him back in contention. An off on the final round in Cork curtailed what had been a stunning battle with Cronin all year.
With Fisher out, the four remaining exponents could still win the title. Cronin came through safe to head the standings while Josh Moffett won his first overall international event.
West Cork driver Cronin was brilliant through the 2016 season and only a costly off on the Circuit and a retirement in Killarney marred his record. He also came within a whisker of beating a World Rally Car outright as his battle with Manus Kelly’s Subaru Impreza S12B WRC went down to the last stage in Donegal. Cronin’s times over Moll’s Gap and Atlantic Drive were great.
The excitement of the season on the whole, as well as on the final round, is something Gray believes justified the TROA’S decision to change the rules.
“I really believe that I’ve never witnessed anything like last season,” adds Gray. “I didn’t believe that in Galway when all this started, I would stand at the last stage and not know who would win the rally or who would be champion.
“The footage was much more exciting than the previous year’s because you had people fighting for tenths of a second.”
Championship contender Alastair Fisher – nephew of late multiple Irish champion Bertie – mirrored Gray’s thoughts on the spectacle.
“It’s been really revitalised in 2016 and it’s had a really good following,” says Fisher. “People have been keeping a good eye on it and I think the spectators have enjoyed everybody’s commitment in the R5s.
“I think it’s only really starting. I think we’ll get some of the guys who have had World Rally Cars in the past start making the jump across and that will only increase the popularity of the championship.”
The championship drops a round with the Circuit of Ireland not running this year, so the best six of seven rounds count.
The championship can’t make many fundamental changes to improve this year, but it shouldn’t. The formula created last year produced the closest fight in top-level national rallying. And with intent for new R5s to come flooding to the Emerald Isle, the controversial rule change has been a justified one. ■
Cronin (centre, right) celebrates success in Cork Cronin was 2016 championENTRIES R5s/s2000s on each round
Galway West Cork Circuit of Ireland Killarney Donegal Ulster Cork ‘20’ R5 S2000 TOTAL 11 9 10 5 5 8 7 4 4 2 4 4 4 1 15 13 12 9 9 12 8
Fisher fought for ITRC title POS
Keith Cronin/ Mikie Galvin Sam Moffett/ Karl Atkinson Josh Moffett/john Rowan Alastair Fisher/gordy Noble Jonny Greer/ Kirsty Riddick Stephen Wright/james Fulton Joe Mcgonigle/ciaran Gainey Brendan Cumiskey Callum Devine/ Keith Moriarty Aaron Mchale/ Enda Sherry
Citroen DS 3 R5 Ford Fiesta R5 Ford Fiesta R5 Ford Fiesta R5 Citroen DS 3 R5 Ford Fiesta R5 Skoda Fabia S2000 Ford Fiesta R5 Opel Adam R2 Skoda Fabia S2000 PTS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 78 75 72 70 55 54 31 25.5 25 24
R5s came out in force for series ITRC shared with BRC twice