Despite having a trio of forestry rally champions heading to Wales this weekend for the second round of the British Championship, the Irish contingent face an uphill battle to repeat their success in round one.
Sam Moffett won the NH Stages last month and leads the BRC series but the Nicky Grist Rally on Saturday represents a totally different challenge; Welsh gravel stages instead of the tarmac of Oulton Park race circuit.
And the entry list contains a number of drivers far more familiar with the terrain than Moffett and fellow former Irish forest champions, younger brother Josh and Desi Henry.
The line-up is headed by reigning BRC champion Matt Edwards and includes proven winners in Osian Pryce and Tom Cave – all Welshmen. As well there is Rhys Yates, second behind Moffett at Oulton Park, the English driver stepping back from WRC2 in the World Championship this season.
Plus Matthew Wilson, son of the M-Sport boss and the Ford team’s chief test driver as well as a frequent winner on BRC rounds in the past.
Wilson may not have competed in the Championship since as far back as 2016 but he has packed in dozens of WRC rounds in the interim period and has been closely involved in the development of the R5 Fiestas which dominate the entry list.
So the Irish will be up against it, although their challenge has been boosted by the return of Keith Cronin, a four-time BRC champion.
But it will be his first Championship rally in almost three years and he is playing down expectations despite an encouraging third place in a warm-up outing with his new R5 Ford Fiesta in the M-Sport Stages last weekend.
“Until last weekend I hadn’t competed in a rally since 2018, so my expectations must stay realistic,” said the Cork man, who is back in a development role for Hankook tyres.
The entry list is peppered with Irish drivers including Garry Jennings, Marty McKenna, Alan Carmichael, Joe McGonigle, Conor McCourt, Gareth Sayers and Vivian Hamill, all in potentially front-running R5 cars.
Irish crews have dominated the Junior Championship in recent years and are showing signs of doing it again with William Creighton leading the standings in his R4 Fiesta. Kyle White and Eamonn Kelly are second and third. For Moira driver Creighton, the Welsh forests will also provide an ideal opportunity to prepare for next week’s World Championship round on the gravel roads of Estonia.
Meanwhile, Charlie Eastwood and Wayne Boyd are back in action this weekend in round four of the European Le Mans Championship at Monza in Italy.
Eastwood, who opted out of the Aston Martin GTE programme for a move up to the LMP2 class with Racing Team Turkey, will be hoping to build on the momentum of the past two rounds, including a pro-am class win in France.
He and Salih Yuloc are joined again by 20-year-old American Logan Sargeant, who stunned the field by qualifying the team’s Oreca on pole position in his first ELMS race at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.
Boyd is back in Europe after another trip to the United States where he was on the podium in the IMSA Championship round at Watkin’s Glen, his second top-three finish in the series.
But the European and Asian LMP3 champion from Templepatrick has ground to make up in this season’s series after a run of ill-fortune with his United Autosports Ligier.
Boyd and team-mates Edouard Cauhaupe and Rob Wheldon did pick up third place at Paul Ricard and are optimistic their luck has changed.