Gary Jennings craving a victory despite Irish Tarmac title exclusion
Garry Jennings will lead the field into a new era of Irish rallying in Galway on Saturday morning. But he won't be a part of it; he knows he can't become Irish Tarmac champion again, yet still says he has few regrets.
The 2013 champion has said no to the change which will see old-style supercars like his S12 Subaru Impreza WRC excluded from the main championship and be superseded by a newer breed of R5/S2000 cars which are gaining ground in major competitions all around the world.
In a compromise the Irish Tarmac championship organisers are allowing the older cars, which have dominated the series for the past two decades, to continue to take part and, in all probability, win rallies but their drivers, established names like Jennings, Declan Boyle, Tim McNulty and Derek McGarrity, will not be crowned champions again.
Instead, look for drivers such as Keith Cronin, Alastair Fisher, Sam and Josh Moffett, Stephen Wright and Desi Henry to be heading the championship points table this season even though they may not be outright winners.
It is not an ideal situation, one which may cause confusion for the watching public, but was adopted to achieve a degree of harmony in the short term. But the majority view, including that of 2015 champion Donagh Kelly, who is sitting out this season, is that change had to come. Ireland's premier championship was slowly dying.
And it seems to be working. More than a dozen of the newer R5/S2000s are entered for just the first round, the Corrib Oil Galway International, and sees the return to the series of Cronin and Fisher, two of our leading drivers who have largely ignored the series in the past in favour of World or European adventures.
Sadly, the flamboyant Jennings is one of those who has decided not to embrace the change. Not, he insists, because he doesn't agree change was needed, but because the newer cars are more expensive and don't suit him. They don't come in right-hand-drive specification.
"I'm a bit long in the tooth to start adapting to left-hand-drive. I've tried it and don't feel comfortable," said the Kesh oil company boss.
"Besides, I've been Tarmac champion, been there, done that, and now I prefer to just pick and choose my rallies rather than commit to a championship. I can still go out to win rallies which has always been my primary aim."
Jennings' battle for a first Galway victory is likely to see him lock horns with arch-rival Boyle, the 2014 champion who is also sticking with his WRC Ford Fiesta.
But for once they may not be the centre of attention, the focus switching to the battle for supremacy between the R5 Fords, Skodas and Citroens of triple British champion Cronin and co. No Galway International in recent times has been more eagerly anticipated.