James Stafford and Tom Scallon survived clutch and gearbox problems to win West Cork’s National Rally by 46.2 seconds. Their dominant victory moves Stafford to the top of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship’s Modified standings.
Rob Duggan was Stafford’s nearest challenger over the 14 stages surrounding Clonakilty. Duggan set two-wheel-drive’s early pace on West Cork’s opening stage, Ardfield. In fact, his Ford Escort Mk2 was eighth fastest overall, less than 10 seconds off Callum Devine’s pace-setting Rally2 Fiesta.
Stafford could only manage the third-fastest modified time on Ardfield, 6.3 seconds slower than Duggan, and 4.3 seconds down on John Dalton’s Darrian. A slipping clutch hindered Stafford from Ardfield’s halfway point.
The issue worsened for the Wexford man on Stage 2 but he still went fastest through Hayes Cross. Thankfully for Stafford the crews only had a loop of two stages between Saturday’s service periods.
Kevin Eves, Christopher O’Callaghan, and Gary Kiernan were separated by less than a second after West Cork’s opening stage. They completed the top six as Daniel McKenna struggled to commit on his first visit to West Cork’s high-speed stages. He was 30 seconds off the lead after two stages.
Jason Black was also unable to match the top times early on as a slow puncture cost him some time and confidence on Ardfield. Still, he lead Class 13 and responded with a fifth-fastest two-wheel-drive time on Hayes Cross.
Eves was battling to keep the rear of his Toyota Corolla on the road. He couldn’t believe how many moments he was having in the perfect dry conditions. The issues left him down in fifth and 16.6 seconds off the lead after two stages.
The Pettigo pilot ended up removing his anti-roll bar which helped him regain some confidence on the first day of West Cork action.
Damian Toner and Frank Kelly, by their own admission, were caught sleeping at the start of the intense modified battle. They were outside the top ten after the first two stages.
O’Callaghan’s sharp start came to an end on Stage 3, the repeat running of Ardfield. An oversteer correction sent his Escort into a bank on the outside of a downhill right-hander. The impact bent its back axle to go along with a sizable amount of front-end damage.
Meanwhile, at the head of the modified pack, Stafford asserted his hold on the two-wheel-drive rally. He went 7.9 seconds quicker than any of his rivals on Ardfield, fifth-fastest overall with the same time as R5 front-runner Alastair Fisher.
Stafford went on to set seven fastest times on Saturday’s eight stages to hold a 28.7-second overnight lead.
Duggan became Stafford’s sole threat when third-placed Dalton retired with motion sickness on Saturday’s penultimate stage.
Eves, Kiernan, and McKenna completed the National top-five ahead of Sunday’s six stages.
The modified battle lost another challenge on Stage 10 when Kevin Eves retired on Clogagh. A front spring broke in his Corolla and damaged the exhaust manifold inside its engine bay.
With Eves’ out, Kiernan was charging towards Duggan, setting a series of fastest times. A lacklustre drive through West Cork’s penultimate stage cost Duggan 26 seconds to his Escort rival. Kiernan was now only eight seconds behind the Kerryman with one test to go.
Duggan responded, however, setting a final-stage fastest time. Not that it mattered, though. Kiernan joined the ever-growing list of retirements, his Escort succumbing to differential issues on the very last stage.
Stafford remained out in front but he was in management mode when he lost second gear on Sunday. He kept his cool, alongside a new co-driver in Scallon to seal a dominant victory.
McKenna completed the National podium in his fine-tuned Ford Escort. He felt like his driving was starting to improve towards the end of the two-day event.
Simon Reid and Sam Moffett completed the two-wheel-drive top five. Moffett took Class 13 honours for the very first time after inheriting the lead when Jason Black retired with fuel issues on Stage 11.
Photos by Adam Hall and Ruaidhri Nash