Belfast Telegraph

Flying start for rejigged Irish series

By Sammy Hamill

It was an encouraging start and one that augurs well for the future of the Irish Tarmac Rally championship.

Sure, Garry Jennings won the Galway International at a canter but the new rules designed to breathe new life into an ailing championship and make it more competitive clearly worked.

The battle for points, now featuring drivers of R5 and S2000 category cars, was fierce and saw Keith Cronin edge out Alastair Fisher by 16 seconds with Sam Moffett, who set two outright fastest times, in third place.

Jennings dominated the rally and once Declan Boyle crashed out, his WRC Ford Fiesta hitting a tree, the 2013 Tarmac champion controlled the pace from the front and won by a massive margin of more than three minutes. It would have been a familiar story from years gone by.

But now the rules have changed and cars like Jennings' WRC Subaru Impreza can't score points even if, as expected, they continue to win rallies. It is not an ideal situation and confusing, maybe, to the watching public, but it was a drastic, short-term step that needed to be taken to shake up the premier Irish series.

The focus in Galway was clearly on Cronin and co as they traded times, swapped places and shared the championship lead in their R5 cars over the two days.

Desi Henry was initially in front in his Skoda, then Fisher in his Fiesta before triple British champion Cronin, a former Galway winner, took over.

He now leads the championship from Fisher, Sam Moffett, Josh Moffett, Joe McGonigle, Stephen Wright and Jonny Greer heading into round two in West Cork next month. But before that, several of them will take advantage of the now parallel British championship rules to head for the forests of the Mid Wales Rally on March 5.

After that the championships combine for an Irish, British and European showdown on the Circuit of Ireland in April. The future looks brighter.

Meanwhile, Kris Meeke and Craig Breen sighed relief as this weekend's World championship Rally Sweden got the green light - albeit in shortened form.

Rain and higher than usual temperatures in the Nordic region, which had already caused the cancellation of the first round of the European championship, threatened to call a halt, too, in Sweden. A lack of snow has left the forest tracks in danger of being heavily damaged.

The organisers have cut out the worst affected stages, moved the reconnaissance to tomorrow and Thursday and cancelled shakedown. It will start on Friday when Circuit of Ireland winner Breen is scheduled to join Meeke in the Abu Dhabi Citroen team for the first time.

Belfast Telegraph


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