The latest Irish Tarmac Rally Championship will commence at this weekend’s Galway International Rally. Three classic Galway stages between Loughrea and Slieve Aughty await the crews as the Tarmac Championship gets off to its traditional start in the West of Ireland.
The February conditions are a test alone. The cold, wet roads on last year’s opening stage put an early end to Sam Moffett’s rally as he lost control of his Ford Fiesta R5 under braking and slid into a hedge. His rivals told their own tales of such near misses.
With snowfall earlier this week it looks like this year will be no different. But we’re not complaining, this is Irish rallying after all.
For the second year in a row, the Galway Rally will run as a one-day event. The Tynagh, Duniry, and Black Road stages will be repeated three times, nine stages in total. Drivers described last year’s rally as a sprint from the word go. Driving on the limit in Galway’s wintry conditions, and in many cases this year, in new cars, is a prospect fans can get excited about but I am sure there will be a few pre-rally nerves amongst the competitors.
As last year’s rally winner, Craig Breen, ties up with Hyundai’s World Rally Team ahead of his Rally Sweden adventure, it’s back to the ITRC regulars to chase Galway glory.
Alastair Fisher was runner-up to Breen last year both in Galway and in the overall Tarmac Championship. This year, Fisher and co-driver Gordon Noble will arrive in Loughrea in a Volkswagen Polo R5. That itself is something to look forward to but with Fisher’s rallying heritage and abundance of talent he’ll be focused on making the perfect start to his Irish Tarmac campaign. Is 2020 the year he follows in his Uncle Bertie’s footsteps and becomes a Tarmac Champion?
Josh and Sam Moffett once again return to the ITRC but this year they’ll be behind the wheel of two new cars. After four years in their Fiesta R5s the Monaghan brothers will both switch to Hyundai i20 R5s in Galway. Josh used an i20 on last year’s Donegal Rally, his pace only beaten by an incredibly fast Callum Devine. How the performance of both Josh and Sam, and the Hyundai, develops through the season will be an interesting facet of Irish rallying this year.
Top seed Garry Jennings will be aiming for a third victory in Galway. His Subaru Impreza S12B isn’t eligible for ITRC points but if the World Rally Car runs smoothly he is certainly going to be hard to beat. Whether this year’s stages in Galway suit the bigger car better than 12 months ago remains to be seen. While it would have been nice to see him fighting for the championship in an R5, the WRC Subaru always adds something different to the rally. The to-and-fro battle between Breen, Fisher, and Jeninngs on the first half of last year’s rally was enthralling. Something similar this year would start the season nicely.
Meirion Evans and Donagh Kelly join Fisher in bringing Polo R5s to the ITRC opener. Evans’ pace increased rally-by-rally last year and he’ll look to continue that development in 2020. The Welshman is comfortable on Ireland’s asphalt roads but can he take the step up this year to consistently challenge Ireland’s top drivers?
2015 Tarmac champion Kelly has excelled in both of his two appearances in the Polo so far. Fans will be hopeful that the switch to Volkswagen’s highly rated R5 will have the Donegal driver back at the sharp end of ITRC competition.
As so many drivers arrive in Galway with a new car to drive, how quickly crews adjust and get onto the pace will be interesting to follow. From Fisher in a Polo to Desi Henry in a Hyundai and Joe McGonigle in a Ford Fiesta R5 Mk2, they’ll all be finding the balance of taking caution while staying in the hunt for victory.
But with only nine stages in total there will be no time to hang about.