Boyle and Kelly boost Irish series with R5 switch
It has taken longer than hoped but now two past champions, Declan Boyle and Donagh Kelly, are making the switch to R5 cars three years after it became the main category in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
The Donegal duo, both serial winners, have steadfastly stuck to their WRC cars even though it excluded them from winning the premier Tarmac title since the end of the 2015 season.
In their absence, Keith Cronin and the Moffett brothers, Sam and Josh, have dominated the points classification the past three years in their R5s, while Boyle and Kelly have concentrated largely on the Irish National series where WRC cars still reign.
But now both have taken the plunge and are planning to run R5 cars in both the Tarmac and National Championships. Indeed, Kelly has already taken delivery of a Skoda Fabia and a Ford Fiesta is expected to arrive shortly for Boyle, who is reigning National champion.
And Manus Kelly, the three-time winner of his home Donegal International, has revealed he too will be switching to R5 for selected Tarmac and National rounds now that the Melvyn Evans WRC Subaru he has driven in the past is no longer available.
The new breed of ultra-powerful cars used in the World Championship since the start of 2017 are not available to privateer drivers and the gap between the older generation of WRC cars and the less powerful but more nimble R5 cars has been closing over the past couple of years.
Now with a change to the size of the turbo restrictors used on the older group of WRC cars like the Subaru Impreza and the Ford Focus, their advantage is expected to be reduced further.
Although WRC cars can still take part in rounds of the Tarmac series, and contentiously are eligible for overall victory, they no longer qualify for points in the Championship.
But their dominant days are numbered and drivers like Boyle and Kelly are finally embracing change, promising a major boost to Ireland's premier rally series which starts with the Galway International next month.
Meanwhile, Craig Breen has confirmed he will miss out on this year's World Championship after being dropped by Citroen.
Hopes of a move to Hyundai or Ford have not materialised and Breen expressed his disappointment, but suggested he was still hopeful of returning to the series later in the year.