Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes fought back to secure a commanding win on Sunday’s Wexford Stages Rally. Early rally leaders Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson had to settle for second on the six-stage event.
Daniel Cronin rounded out the podium after struggling to match the pace of Moffett and Evans through the second half of the day.
Cronin started the rally second-fastest, 2.3 seconds behind Evans’ opening stage-winning benchmark. The first two stages were very wet and it was the Welshman who led Moffett heading into Wexford’s first service by six seconds.
The conditions changed for Wexford’s third and fourth stages with Moffett gambling on harder tyres to maximise his pace on the drying roads. The second half of stage three proved to be incredibly slippery and when Evans learned his rival still managed to eclipse his time by 12 seconds, he knew Moffett now held the edge.
Moffett’s slick-shod Hyundai i20 R5 suited stage four even better and it was the Irish crew who held the advantage over Evans’ Volkswagen Polo heading into Wexford’s final loop of two stages.
Meanwhile Cronin, who had held third place after stage three, struggled with perished tyres and signs of an engine misfire on Wexford’s fourth test. His Ford Fiesta R5 was hitting the problem at high revs so Cronin had to short shift to alleviate the time loss.
An incredible drive by James Stafford resulted in a fastest overall stage-time for the Darrian T90, propelling him into third overall.
An ever-improving Enda O’Brien was now in fifth after ending the first test down in eleven. The Polo R5 driver was enjoying the drier conditions as he got used to the four-wheel-drive machine.
World Rally Championship driver Craig Breen was in a league of his own in Wexford’s historic category. He was within the top five overall halfway through Wexford’s stages but admitted after the fourth test he was “absolutely wrecked” from man-handling his Subaru Legacy.
Back at the front, Moffett continued to assert his dominance in the final two mucky Wexford stages. Evans was unable to threaten his R5 rival and had to be content with another runner-up finish in Ireland.
It was Moffett’s day and the 29-year-old was pleased to take his first win on home soil since 2020’s Birr Stages Rally.
“I’m very happy with it,” Moffett told Onthepacenote’s Andy Walsh at the end of the rally. “I haven’t done Wexford in a long time, I remember doing it in 2010 in a Peugeot 106.
“I’m pretty happy but I’d like a few more [wins] all the same.”
Disappointed to lose out to Moffett by over 20 seconds, Evans had room to find some positives.
“I’ve learned a lot today actually. When it’s dry or wet it’s fine but when it’s in between with a lot of mud then we seem to struggle with confidence and the time just isn’t there.
“We can work on it and we’ll try to get it right for next year.”
Cronin and O’Brien inherited third and fourth respectively when Stafford ran out of road on Wexford’s final stage. The Darrian arrived at the final control missing its rear engine cover and spoiler after the local driver slid backways into a ditch.
Stafford survived the moment to finish fifth overall and claim another two-wheel-drive victory.
Recent R5 convert David Kelly completed the top six after a solid outing in his Ford Fiesta. The young man from Donegal will be happy to complete the day of learning without any dramas.
While Stafford raged ahead in his Darrian, Gary Kiernan, Ed O’Callaghan, and Richard Moore were locked in a thrilling Ford Escort Mk2 battle behind.
Moore led the trio into Wexford’s first service after mastering the early rain soaked roads. O’Callaghan’s close call on stage one’s first corner gave him an early Sunday morning scare.
Kiernan and O’Callaghan slipped ahead of Moore on the third stage with both drivers going six seconds faster than Moore on the 10-kilometre stage.
A charge by O’Callaghan on the next test eclipsed Kiernan by six seconds and gave him control of the battle.
0.6 seconds separated the pairs’ times on Wexford’s penultimate stage leaving O’Callaghan with a 2.6-second lead with one to go.
Kiernan responded, driving the door handles off his Mk2 Escort to go fastest in two-wheel-drive on the final 14-kilometre stage by an incredible 13 seconds.
The Cavan man had done it: top Escort, second in two-wheel-drive, and seventh overall was now his. O’Callaghan slipped one place behind.
An impressive drive from Chris O’Callaghan was rewarded with a Class 13 victory and finished just a few places behind the Class 14 battle ahead.
Breen and Mikie Galvin completed their perfect day in the Legacy with an historic class win and times that would have placed them sixth in the main field. Despite managing a water temperature issue they finished less than two minutes behind rally winner Moffett.
Photos courtesy of Barronpix