Callum Devine holds a 4.4-second overnight lead after a huge battle with Josh Moffett on West Cork Rally’s opening day of action.
Devine, and new co-driver Shane Byrne, led from West Cork’s first high-speed test through Ardfield. Devine excelled on Ardfield, unbeaten on both its runs but Moffett responded on the return Hayes Cross stage to stay in touch.
In fact, a string of three fastest times in a row for Galway International Rally winners, Moffett and Andy Hayes, allowed them to grab the West Cork Rally lead with just two tests remaining on Saturday.
Devine responded on Stage 7, however, to reclaim the lead and extend it heading into Sunday’s final six stages.
“We made some changes in the last service of the day,” explained Devine. “It seemed to pay off and we had a good final loop.
“The car has been good today and the changes made another good improvement. This is only my first dry rally in the car so I think there are plenty of positives.”
Moffett picked up four stage wins out of eight on Saturday but such are the fine margins currently present in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, he still has some time to find tomorrow.
“We have another long day tomorrow so we will see what we can do,” added the Hyundai driver.
“Everybody is going so fast, we’ll have to play it by ear.
“Maybe some of the really fast stuff has suited us,” replied Moffett when asked if certain stages worked better than others.
“There are quite fast, technical sections here and I kind of like that type of driving – there is a good buzz off it. Tomorrow is a new day so you never know what will happen.”
A consistent performance throughout West Cork’s opening day ensured Meirion Evans parked his Volkswagen Polo R5 up in third overall. 21.8 seconds down on Devine, Evans strayed away from the battle out front.
The Welshman is also being drawn into a brawl for the final podium position. Alastair Fisher, who started the day outside the top five, grasped Saturday afternoon’s demanding stages.
A fastest-time on day one’s penultimate stage helped push him into fourth overall, within four seconds of team-mate Evans.
Cathan McCourt went fastest on the final stage of the day to usurp Jonny Greer’s Citroen C3 Rally2 and claim fifth. Greer had been going well on his car’s Irish Tarmac debut. The Northern Irishman reckoned the Citroen suited Saturday morning’s fast stages.
A couple of uncomfortable moments left Greer a bit more cautious towards the end of the day and he had to settle for sixth overnight.
Speaking of moments, Daniel Cronin survived a fourth-gear spin in his Polo R5 on the final run through Sam’s Cross.
“We were very lucky,” said Cronin. “We’re haunted really, there isn’t a mark on the car.
“We learned a lot out there today. We went on a soft tyre in the middle loop which worked and then went on hards for the last loop and they didn’t work as good.
“The car is still in one piece so we’ll try again in the morning.”
Eighth overall is two-wheel-drive’s runaway leader James Stafford. The Darrian driver claimed the modified lead on Stage 3 from early leader Rob Duggan. Stafford’s overnight advantage over Killarney’s Ford Escort man is just shy of 30 seconds.
Kevin Eves completes the top three in two-wheel-drive. Eves felt much more comfortable with the car after removing its anti-roll bars which were fitted just before the rally.
“It is nearly impossible to race the Darrian in a Mk2,” said Duggan. “We are just keeping an eye on the boys behind [Eves and Kiernan].
“Kevin took some time out of us on the second last one and we said we can’t let him have two so we just pipped him on the last one with a bit of a push on.”
Photos by David Harrigan