Josh Moffett & Andy Hayes in a Ford Fiesta R5 are the early leaders of the 2018 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship following their second place overall on the recent West Cork Rally. Although he had to give best to the Focus WRC of winner Donagh Kelly, Josh managed to maintain top position throughout the event of all the championship registered crews. Sam Moffett the current champion finished only nine seconds behind after a stirring day two drive, while Robert Barrable edged Dessie Henry to move into third place in the standings.

With the cancellation of the Galway International Rally, West Cork Rally became the championship opener for the first time ever. A strong entry saw 125 crews make the start line and eight R5 cars were in the top ten. It was a clean sweep of Fords with the exception being the returning Eugene Donnelly in a Hyundai i20 R5. Donnelly was under no illusion as to the task ahead and saw the event as a good opportunity to get some valuable experience with the car under his belt.

Ring and Clogagh were attempted twice on the first half of the opening day and Josh Moffett immediately put down a marker with his brother Sam the only one to come anywhere near him. Robert Barrable was back in a Fiesta and he was fighting for position with Desi Henry while a little further back Stephen Wright, Jonny Greer & Daniel Cronin were all within a few seconds of each other. Donnelly was a minute further back as he was acclimatising to the car, while Callum Devine was wringing the neck of the Ford Fiesta R2T. David Guest was leading Group N on home territory ahead of William Mavitty.

The four stages on the second half of the day saw Josh maintain his advantage and hold a 28 second advantage over Sam when the cars returned to Parc Ferme for the night. Desi Henry was a full minute behind Sam and only seven clear of Barrable, while a further minute back Wright was holding off a challenge from Greer and Cronin. Donnelly was in no man’s land another minute back and two minutes clear of the impressive Devine who was flinging his Fiesta around the West Cork countryside. Guest had lost the Group N lead when a driveshaft broke leaving Mavitty with a cushion of almost two minutes over his rival but fully expecting an onslaught on the second day.

Dry sunny weather welcomed the crews on the second day but with a threat of snow in the air nobody was about to be complacent. Josh kept his rivals at bay despite throttle problems which caused some anxious moments on Ardfield when the car didn’t stop as quickly as he would like. Sam was determined to make up the gap and after the first three stages had pulled the deficit back to nineteen seconds. Barrable and Henry were still swapping seconds with the latter holding a slight edge, helped in part by a fastest stage time on Stage 11, Rossmore. There were no other significant changes to the field as the retirement rate was remarkably low. One exception was Colin Quirk from the Isle of Man who spoiled an impressive run when he slid off the road on Stage 10, Sam’s Cross.

The final three stages saw Sam put on a final push but Josh did enough to stay ahead by just nine seconds. Barrable took third place points by finishing fifth behind the non-registered Declan Boyle as his rival Henry suffered a spin on the penultimate stage costing him thirty seconds. Greer was also in the wars having to change a puncture and losing four minutes dropping him behind Cronin, Wright and Donnelly. Devine was top R2 driver and an excellent 11th overall while William Creighton was a late retirement in the same class. Mavitty held onto the Group N win despite pressure from Guest all day long.

Provisional Points after Round 1

1 – Josh Moffett               17
2 – Sam Moffett               14
3 – Robert Barrable         12
4 – Desi Henry                  10
5 – Daniel Cronin             8
6 – Stephen Wright        7

National, Historic & Junior Categories

Kevin Eves finished third in the National Rally and was top registered championship drive to get his defence of the title he won last year off to a good start. With the non-registered Gary Kiernan & John Dalton streaking off into the distance, Eves overcame issues with the car early in the event where it kept cutting out and which dropped him outside the top ten. He fought his way back to third early on Sunday and maintained the position. Jason McSweeney lies in second place after a fine drive on his local event, finishing fourth overall and edging out John Bonner over the final stages. Damien Tourish and Wesley Patterson also netted valuable championship points. Retirements included Stuart Darcy who had been the closest challenger of the front two in the early stages until he went off the road, Kyle McGettigan and Kevin Gallagher.

Provisional Modified Top 3

1 – Kevin Eves 17, 2 – Jason McSweeney 14, 3 – John Bonner 12

The Historic Rally saw Owen Murphy take his second maximum score of the Historic Championship when he had 21 seconds to spare over Barry Jones after an event long tussle. The pace at the front meant that third placed Duncan Williams was three and a half minutes behind at the end. Denis Cronin finished in fourth place despite losing some time on Sunday. Neil Williams had led after the opening stage but alternator problems dropped him well back the field. Andy Johnson, James O’Mahony and Declan Jackson all finished ahead of Williams. Retirements included Martin Doherty who had been third overnight as well as Alan Watkins and Martin Freestone.

Provisional Historic Top 3

1 – Owen Murphy 34, 2= Denis Cronin 24, 2= Duncan Williams 24

The Junior event saw a big tussle before Gary McNamee edged out Colin O’Donoghue by just eight seconds having swapped positions a few times during the day. The pair were over two minutes ahead of Mick Lonergan by the end of Sunday’s six stages. Fourth went to Fergus Hurley and fifth to Eamonn McCarthy but among the late retirements were Gareth Deazley, Derry Long, Padraig Walsh and Diarmuid Hallahan.             

Provisional Junior Top 3

1 – Gary McNamee 17, 2  – Eamonn McCarthy 12, 3 – Cathal Keane