Josh Moffett and Keith Moriarty cruised home to secure their second National Rally Championship win on Sunday’s Birr Stages Rally. It was Moffett’s fourth victory from four starts in 2022 and his third Birr success in a row.
Their Hyundai i20 R5 finished 33.7 seconds ahead of the Ford Fiesta WRC of Declan Boyle and James O’Reilly. It was Keith Cronin, however, who looked most likely to challenge Moffett’s supremacy for most of the six-stage rally.
Cronin and Mikie Galvin were making their Volkswagen Polo R5 debut, the same car used by Keith’s brother Daniel in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
The four-time British Rally Champion went third-fastest on Birr’s opening stage, 13 seconds off Moffett’s early pace. Cronin ate into his rival’s advantage on the next test, Glenafell, with a fastest time on the 17.4-kilometre stage.
Moffett headed into Birr’s first service halt with a 11.5-second cushion over Cronin despite enduring intermittent intercom issues throughout Birr’s opening loop.
A dejected Darren Gass dropped from second to fifth on Stage 2, lost for words with his performance behind the wheel of his Citroen C3 Rally2. Garry Jennings showed an opposite array of emotions as he described the feeling inside his Ford Fiesta R5.
It was the first time Jennings had rallied his R5 Fiesta on dry asphalt and he reckoned he was going into corners a gear lower than he could. Still, the Fermanagh man was flying in third overall alongside faithful co-driver Rory Kennedy.
Boyle finished Birr’s opening pass in fourth as he got up to speed with his World Rally Car once again. The Donegal driver was the last driver to benefit from Gass’s second stage woes as Desi Henry completed the top six.
Like Jennings, Henry was sampling dry conditions for the first time in his Rally2 Fiesta. It wasn’t going to plan for Henry though as pop-off valve issues on Knockhill was compounded by a lack of power on Stage 2.
Fresh from service, Moffett and Cronin continued their battle with a joint-fastest time on Stage 3. The latter voiced some concern with a vibration that he thought could be coming from a buckled wheel.
It didn’t seem to slow the Polo too much as he stayed within a second of Moffett’s stage winning pace on their second attempt at Glenafell. In fact, Moffett was the concerned one at the end of Stage 4. He clipped a rear wheel two kilometres from the end of the stage and feared he had a slow puncture.
The National Rally Championship leaders survived the scare to reach Birr’s final service with a 12.4-second lead over Cronin.
Jennings continued to savour his R5 in the dry conditions. Two more top-five times maintained his third-position but Boyle had found the groove and was now just 2.1 seconds behind.
Birr’s penultimate stage, Knockhill, brought an end to Cronin’s promising run in second. His Polo R5 stopped at the side of the road with suspected driveshaft failure. Jennings would have been the one to pick up his runner-up position but his Fiesta didn’t even make it out of the preceding service.
As a result, Boyle jumped up two places to second as he began to set more threatening times. He was just 1.4 seconds shy of Moffett’s fastest time.
Henry continued to battle through his engine problems, jumping Gass into third with less than two second separating the pair ahead of Birr’s final stage.
With a secure 37-second lead, Moffett and Moriarty, cruised through Birr’s finale to continue their Hyundai’s impressive run of form.
“The rally is a credit to the club,” said Birr’s rally winner. “The stages this weekend have just been fabulous, really good driving stages.
“We have had a great day, a nice and clean day, and another win under the belt so it’s not so bad.”
Boyle and Gass set a joint-fastest time on Glenafell to claim the remaining podium positions. Gass pipping Henry to third by 3.1 seconds.
Stephen Wright completed Birr’s top five. He struggled for outright speed early in the day but enjoyed the event more as things warmed up from the second loop. Wright reckoned a short gear ratio might be hampering his performance on the high-speed stages. Boyle’s final stage time was at an average speed of 130 kph.
Birr Stages Rally – Modifieds
Stuart Darcy set the early pace in modifieds driving his 2.5-litre, four-wheel-drive Proton Satria. Darcy was five seconds up on Kevin Eves after the opening stage of Birr Stages Rally.
Eves caught Seamus Leonard’s punctured Rally2 Fiesta two kilometres before the end of Stage 1. Jason Black was within touching distance of Eves’ Toyota Corolla despite taking a few kilometres to get back into the groove of his 2.0-litre Toyota Starlet.
It was Gary Kiernan, however, who was struggling the most at the start of Birr. The usual two-wheel-drive front runner could barely concentrate on his pacenotes as an imbalanced driveshaft was a severe distraction on Birr’s high-speed stages.
The Ford Escort Mk2 pilot was over 30 seconds behind Eves after Stage 2. Eves now held the modified lead as Darcy felt his Proton lacked something on uphill sections. Black’s Starlet fell away from the lead courtesy of his soft tyres starting to move about towards the end of the 33-kilometre loop.
Michael Carbin closed up to Class 20 rival Darcy on Glenafell even though he was battling to keep the rear of his Mitsubishi Evo in check.
Two spins on the Knockhill test after service meant Darcy dropped behind Carbin and Black as Eves strengthened his grip on modifieds further.
A reinvigorated Kiernan jumped Darcy on Stage 4 with a rapid fastest time in modifieds. With his mechanical issues sorted, Kiernan now held fourth in two-wheel-drive just 3.4 seconds shy of Black with two stages remaining.
A gaggle of crews were fighting for third in Class 14. Ed O’Callaghan was smooth in his Escort to lead Padraig Egan, David Moffett, Marty Toner, and Dessie Keenan.
Rally returnee Keenan had held third in the premier two-wheel-drive class before a spin on Stage 4 cost him 20 seconds and four places.
Egan’s misfiring Escort gave O’Callaghan some breathing space heading into Birr’s final stage as Moffett, Keenan, and Toner held fourth, fifth, and sixth in Class 14 respectively.
But the rally wasn’t over yet and it was Moffett who bore the brunt of upcoming bad luck. Gear linkage problems had him running out of order through Birr’s final stage and his misbehaving Escort bled time through the 17 painful kilometres.
An impressive time from Toner and Kyle Diffin’s BMW E87 surpassed Keenan’s Escort to steal fourth in Class 14 behind O’Callaghan, Kiernan, and modified victor Eves. Moffett fell away from a potential podium finish to seventh on the last stage.
Kiernan’s fightback to third in two-wheel-drive was completed on the last stage. He utilised every ounce of power to usurp Black’s Starlet on Glenafell noting that he couldn’t let the Mayo winner get away with another one this weekend.
Kiernan was third in modifieds behind Carbin and the uncatchable Eves.
In Class 12, Brian Armstrong topped a nice day-long battle with Michael Conlons’ similar Mk2 Escort. Armstrong’s final winning margin was 20.7 seconds.
Dara Leonard sealed an impressive Class 2 win in his Ford Fiesta Rally4. It was one of the rally’s most competitive classes with Leonard joined by Shane Quinn, Jody McManus, and Michael Boyle in the lead battle.
Boyle took an early lead on his Rally4 debut, 27 seconds up on McManus’s R2 Fiesta after two stages. An electrical fault forced the Donegal driver to stop on the next test for over a minute which dropped him down to seventh in class.
Leonard took the lead but McManus continued to threaten, just 3.2 seconds between them with one run of Glenafell to go. McManus had to go for it but a spin spoiled his hard work, ensuring Leonard got the class win and giving Quinn second-place.
Two more stage wins let Boyle climb to fourth by the end of the rally.
2022 Birr Stages Rally results (top ten)
1 Josh Moffett – Keith Moriarty (Hyundai I20 R5), 48:58.2s
2 Declan Boyle – James O’Reilly (Ford Fiesta WRC), +33.7s
3 Darren Gass – Noel O’Sullivan (Citroen C3 Rally2), +52.7
4 Desi Henry – Paddy Robinson (Fiesta Rally2), +55.8
5 Stephen Wright – Darragh Kelly (Fiesta R5), +1:32.0
6 Kevin Eves – Chris Melly (Toyota Corolla), +1:45.2
7 Michael Carbin – Dean O’Sullivan (Mitsubishi Evo 8), +2:23.3
8 Gary Kiernan – Darren O’Brien (Ford Escort Mk2), +2:26.9
9 Jason Black – Karl Egan (Toyota Starlet), +2:34.1
10 Niall Maguire – Conor Foley (Fiesta R5), +2:48.7
Photos courtesy of Barronpix