Irish rallying may have only restarted in September but the quality certainly made up for the quantity. I have picked my top six events, featuring some outside home shores.
Battles, backdrops, and backstories entwine this list of rallies. I will provide my take on each of the nominated rallies but, like last week, the decision on which is the best lies solely with you.
Remember, the rallies are listed in chronological order.
1 Ypres Rally Belgium – 13-15 August
Asphalt // twenty stages // Winners – Neuville/Wydaeghe
Ypres Rally in the World Rally Championship was a prospect we all savoured. While the lead battle may have dwindled away, the initial impact, speed, and drama of World Rally Cars on Belgium’s unique punchy roads was breathtaking.
That is all spectacular but the real reason Ypres features in this list is the notable performances of Ireland’s top rally drivers. Craig Breen secured second behind team-mate and local favourite Thierry Neuville, Josh McErlean sealed a top-five in a WRC 3 field filled with rapid Belgians, Jon Armstrong dominated Junior WRC, and William Creighton set seven fastest-times after his event was spoiled early on by a faulty sensor.
Grabbing a result at international level is always a challenge. Going up against more experienced rivals makes it more difficult. To conquer both on a demanding rally like Ypres, well that is something special.
2 Cork 20 International Rally – 11 September
Asphalt // nine stages // Winners – Devine/Hoy
There was a real sense of anticipation when fans arrived in Cork for Ireland’s first closed-road rally since March 2020. And the all-out performances by Devine, Evans, Moffett, and White didn’t disappoint as the top ten cars roared through Caherduggan.
It wasn’t just the lead four-wheel-drive crews raising the hairs of Cork’s spine-tingled spectators. A top drawer field of modified crews reverberated their way through the fast and narrow roads south of Fermoy.
It was a brilliant day. The sun was out, spectators were out in force, and you just got that all-important feeling – the buzz was back.
3 Donegal Harvest Rally – 3 October
Asphalt // six stages // Winners – Devine/Hoy
Cork 20 winner Callum Devine arrived in Donegal hoping to continue his form from the month before. Donagh Kelly, the Moffett brothers, and rejuvenated Garry Jennings provided stiff opposition.
But only one man could take the battle to Devine. Declan Boyle was in a rally car for the first time in over two years. Despite planning to drive a Volkswagen Polo, the Donegal driver couldn’t resist the temptation of his Ford Fiesta WRC.
Boyle’s hunch was right, his Fiesta was fastest out of the blocks and Devine was on the back foot. The battle continued all day and both Boyle and Devine put everything, and I mean everything, on the line on Donegal’s final stage.
Devine came out on top, the stage-end emotions were proof of how deep he had to dig to overcome Boyle’s challenge.
4 Ulster Rally – 20 November
Asphalt // nine stages // Winners – Edwards/Garrod
A season-long British Rally Championship battle between Welsh drivers Matt Edwards and Osian Pryce came down to the wire on November’s Ulster Rally. The nine-stage thriller was played out across 151 demanding stage-kilometres.
Ulster’s unpredictable weather was unsettling for all the crews and made the traditionally slippery roads even more treacherous. The ingredients were there for a dramatic day and that is certainly what we got.
The BRC battle became a runaway duel at the front of the rally. It eventually ended when Pryce rolled his Polo R5 into a field on Ulster’s penultimate test.
The Irish crews were well behind, most of them had their own visits to ditches, hedges, and fields in what must have been one of Ireland’s trickiest days of rallying in recent years.
5 Roger Albert Clark Rally – 25-29 November
Gravel // thirty-one stages // Winners – Champion/Thorley
If the Ulster Rally’s ending was dramatic, how do you begin to describe this year’s Roger Albert Clark Rally? Wind, rain, snow, storms, fallen trees, and stage-stricken crews. And that was all before the real drama started.
When Jason Pritchard arrived at the RAC’s Welsh leg with 40 seconds in hand over Paul Barrett and three and a half minutes over Osian Pryce, well one would have been forgiven for thinking the front-battle had petered out.
Pritchard fell victim to the soft mud in a logging section of Dovey on Sunday. His rally was over and victory lay in the hands of Barrett. Pryce was nearly two minutes behind.
Stage one of the RAC’s final day. The first car to arrive at the stage-end? Not Barrett, not Pryce, but the Porsche 911 of Ryan Champion. He had started Walters almost five minutes off the lead. Five stages later and Champion became the first driver to win the rally in something other than a Ford Escort.
6 Killarney Historic Rally – 27 November
Asphalt // six stages // Winners – Breen/Nagle
Killarney is rally country, the roads trace through Kerry’s lakes and mountains to form stages better than you could ever imagine. This year’s Historic Rally showcased an entry list that did the region’s roads justice.
Craig Breen and Paul Nagle were popular winners while Rob Duggan and Ger Conway put in a perfect performance to blow his modified opposition away.
But it was the side-stories that really made the rally special.
Nagle won the Historic section of the rally for the first time – on its 25th anniversary. The event of course is the brainchild of his late Father Maurice.
Donagh Kelly was in another BMW M3, guided by Rory Kennedy’s pacenotes for the first time. In fact, it was Kennedy’s first time in the famous Bavarian rally car since he won the Rally of the Lakes alongside Bertie Fisher 21 years earlier.
Willie Mavitty’s Talbot Samba tribute to Rory Galligan was another special car to feature on Moll’s Gap, Ballaghbeama, and Caragh Lake.
A wonderful rally and a beautiful way to finish the season in Ireland.
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Photos by Adam Hall and Russ Otway