Several British Rally Championship and Irish Tarmac Championship crews will tackle this Sunday’s Birr Stages Rally ahead of both championships’ second round next month – West Cork Rally.
Entries to the Abbeyleix-based event include BRC frontrunners Josh McErlean and Ollie Mellors as well as Junior BRC challenger David Kelly. Mellors’ Proton team-mate Eugene Donnelly will also compete in Birr after only managing three stages in the Galway International Rally three weeks ago.
Birr will be the first proper tarmac rally for McErlean since moving up to the R5 class at the end of last year. Having competed in the Monza Rally Show last December McErlean has some tarmac experience but Birr and West Cork will present a completely different type of challenge.
“Monza was a unique experience,” admitted the Billy Coleman Award winner. “It was a great event to get to grips with the Hyundai.
“The event actually taught me a lot about the fine details of driving the car and its set-up, little things that you would probably never go into on a full-on rally.
“Birr is purely a test for West Cork. This will be our first closed road experience in the Hyundai, we have no pre-event test so it is going to be a day of learning.
“From following the Tarmac Championship last year and watching video clips of what these cars can do on Irish roads, it’s something else.
“It’s still a little surreal that I can step into one of these cars and give it a go. It’s all thanks to the Billy Coleman Award and the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy.”
Josh Moffett and Desi Henry head Birr’s entry list in their Hyundai i20 R5s and will also be hoping to gain vital mileage ahead of the ITRC’s second round. 2018 Tarmac Champion, Moffett, finished fifth in Galway while Henry’s rally ended on the third stage.
Another man preparing for West Cork is 2018 Killarney Historic Rally winner, Owen Murphy. Murphy is seeded ninth for Birr in his recently acquired Ford Fiesta R5 which he’ll then use to return to the ITRC’s top class for the first time since 2017.
Elsewhere this weekend Callum Devine will compete in Omagh Motor Club’s Fivemiletown Rally in his R5 Hyundai. Devine put in a late entry for the event, hoping to gain some gravel experience before beginning his European Rally Championship campaign on Rally Azores at the end of March. It has been 17 months since Devine’s last gravel rally, his final Junior World Rally Championship appearance, Rally Turkey.
Fivemiletown’s reinvigorated forest rally has received over 90 entries and will provide Devine with plenty of benchmark drivers including reigning Irish Forestry Champion, Cathan McCourt, and last year’s rally-winner Niall McCullough.
Photo by Jakob Ebrey