Saint Patrick’s weekend without the West Cork Rally

It seems hard to believe that over two years have passed since Craig Breen and Paul Nagle lifted the winners’ trophy on the West Cork Rally. After two tough days of rallying around Clonakilty they had finally seen off a ferocious challenge from Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble.

In typical sporting fashion, Fisher and Noble stayed on for their southern rivals’ prize-giving speeches before starting the long trip home at half past eleven on Sunday night!

The meeting of the Irish Tarmac Championship and British Rally Championship provided some compelling rallying and when the time came to renew rivalries for the 2020 season the entry was quite possibly the strongest ever seen on the event.

Unfortunately, with the increasing prevalence of Covid-19 the event had to be cancelled at the eleventh hour and the large influx of competitors and spectators had to turn around and head for home.

Incoming Clerk of the Course Steve Davis, who is still waiting to run the rally for the first time had mixed feelings on it all:

“After months of work on the event with travel, meetings, and organising on the part of the whole team, it was very disappointing at the time to have to cancel the rally at such a late stage.

“However, with the way things have subsequently panned out worldwide, it was absolutely the correct decision as we rely very much on the goodwill of the people of Clonakilty and the surrounding areas.”

Reigning British Rally Champion Matt Edwards finished fourth overall in 2019

The financial losses were heavy for the club in 2020 as a result of the cancellation, while this year there was no prospect of the rally going ahead in the current circumstances. Hopefully later this year will see motorsport activity return and Cork Motor Club will get the opportunity to plan for an event in ‘22.

Only twice before has the rally failed to run since it began in 1977. The ‘87 event was cancelled three weeks before its planned running due to the severe insurance crisis that hit the sport. It was June before rallying resumed in Ireland.

The next time the event was cancelled was in 2001, when the Foot and Mouth outbreak across Ireland and the UK saw the rally cancelled two weeks before it was due to run. Much of the Irish Rallying calendar was wiped out that year.

Cork Motor Club can take some heart over the fact that the previous cancellations saw a surge of entries on the resumption of the rally the following year. Hopefully this will be the case next time round.

The inclusion of the West Cork Rally in the Tarmac Championship since 2015 has certainly been a benefit for both event and championship. However, it still retains an interesting mix of top drivers from both Irish and British championships: very quick modified men, a strong clubman entry, and of course a variety of cars from all over Ireland and Britain.

Through the years the rally has never deviated from its aim of being competitor focused with a tight compact route helping to ensure more time is spent on stages than on road sections.

Jerry O’Mahony (co-driven here by Willie Buchanan) has competed on the rally 37 times

Donagh Kelly is the undoubted king of the rally with five wins although his streak came to an in 2019 courtesy of Breen and Nagle. Kelly’s Volkswagen Polo R5 seems a more potent weapon than the Skoda he used in 2019, and you could not rule him out taking a sixth win in the future.

Conor Foley and Paul Nagle tie with Jerry Hynes on three wins which is the most for a co-driver, and both will be keen to move into an outright lead. In fact, WRC-regular Nagle’s first-ever rally win was experienced in West Cork back in 2004.

Will Breen come back to defend his title as it was planned in 2020? What about Fisher, the Moffett brothers and Robert Barrable who have all provided strong opposition to Kelly and Breen in recent years.

Fingers crossed we will be engrossed with the battle in twelve months’ time.

Donagh Kelly has claimed victory in West Cork five times

Photos courtesy of Kevin O’Driscoll

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