Modified rallying in Ireland thrives on the sort of entry witnessed on the Galway International Rally. Gary Kiernan and Darren O’Brien were victorious on the 15-stage epic, claiming top Modified Irish Tarmac Rally Championship points.
“I’m delighted,” said Kiernan at Galway’s final stop control, “I’m delighted to have finished, everyone that finishes should get a trophy because the conditions were that tough.
“We kept things clean and tidy all weekend with no mistakes and it has paid off for us.”
The top two-wheel-drive cars of Kiernan, Kevin Eves, Jason Black, and Daniel McKenna all led Galway’s national section at some point over the two days of action. Kiernan was more than happy to be a part of it.
“It is great racing, great craic, we all get on so well, and we just want to be on top as much as possible this year.”
Kiernan’s final winning margin may have been over two minutes ahead of Black and Karl Egan, but that undersells the battles that raged.
Eves was the first to stake his claim on the honour of fastest Modified in Galway. The Toyota Corolla driver built a 19-second lead over Black’s Toyota Starlet by the end of Saturday’s fourth stage.
The Pettigo man’s pace got the better of him on the fifth stage though when he locked up under braking. A subsequent overshoot pushed his Corolla into a field, clipping a pillar on its way. Eves managed to get out of the Foolagh field to follow Kiernan down the road only to realise his Corolla’s back axle was broken.
With Eves now joining early victims of tough Galway conditions on the retirement list, including Declan Gallagher and Wesley Patterson; it was Class 13 driver Black who picked up the Modified lead.
An assured Black led Kiernan’s Ford Escort by 10 seconds after Stage 5 with McKenna a further 2.2 seconds behind.
Black’s 2.0-litre Starlet continued to fend off its 2.5-lire rivals until a puncture on Saturday’s penultimate stage cost him over two minutes.
With Black down in sixth and third-placed Damien Tourish over a minute off the lead, the race for Modified’s first title of 2022 was now between McKenna and Kiernan.
Heading into Saturday night’s Parc Ferme, McKenna held a three-second advantage after jumping ahead of Kiernan over day one’s last three stages. It was the first time since 2015 that McKenna led the Modified section of an International Rally.
The pair fought hard on Sunday’s opening stages before McKenna’s rally came to an end on a square right junction. McKenna’s Escort locked up on the greasy surface and, with no escape route, slid into a solid bank.
The same braking point caught out International front-runner Alastair Fisher a loop earlier but unfortunately for McKenna the impact was more sizable and brought an end to his rally.
Kiernan now held a three-minute lead with Black back up into second having fought back impressively from sixth overnight.
2019 Modified champion Damian Toner nipped ahead of Black on the penultimate stage but a fastest-time for Black, 15 seconds quicker than Toner, on Galway’s Black Road finale was enough to seal his runner-up finish.
Black and Egan also picked up the Brian Thornton Perpetual Cup for best Galway Motor Club crew – a nice consolation after Saturday’s puncture spoiled another giant-killing Modified challenge.
Toner had to settle for third ahead of James Stafford’s Darrian T90, a car that did well to make it to the finish on flood-ridden roads. Stuart Darcy completed the top five.
If the rest of ITRC’s Modified battles come close to this, we are in for a thrilling year.
2022 Galway International Rally Modified results
1 Gary Kiernan – Darren O’Brien (Ford Escort Mk2) // 1:53:09.6s
2 Jason Black – Karl Egan (Toyota Starlet) // +2:13.7s
3 Damian Toner – Denver Rafferty (Mk2 Escort) // +2:24.8
4 James Stafford – Amy Stafford (Darrian T90) // +2:56.9
5 Stuart Darcy – Liam McIntyre (Proton S2500) // +3:01.6
6 John Warren – Ruthann O’Conner (Toyota Corolla) // +5:10.3
7 Colin Byrne – Stephen Quin (Mk2 Escort) // +5:37.4
8 Simon Reid – John Murphy (Mk2 Escort) // +6:02.3
9 Tom Flaherty – Patrick Curley (Mk2 Escort) // +6:12.0
10 Conor Murphy – Sean Collins (Mk2 Escort) // +6:54.0