Former champs target Moffett's crown
The 2018 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship finished with a whimper, Josh Moffett confirming his position as the new champion in a Cork line-up that included just four of the eligible R5 category cars.
What a difference four months makes. When Ireland's premier series kicks off in Galway in just over a week's time it is expected that more than 25 R5s will be in the line-up, led by ousted Citroen World Championship star Craig Breen.
They will also include champion Moffett, his brother Sam - winner of the series in 2017 - as well as Declan Boyle and Donagh Kelly, two past title-holders who have finally made the switch to R5 cars. Boyle and Kelly were two of the leading drivers who stuck by their WRC cars, competing mainly in the Irish National Championship, but now they have accepted that R5 is the way forward.
Reigning National champion Boyle will drive a Ford Fiesta and Kelly has opted for a Skoda Fabia as they take on a February 10 field which also includes leading Ulster drivers Desi Henry, Jonny Greer and a returning Alastair Fisher.
Switching to R5, too, is Manus Kelly, the first driver to complete a hat-trick of Donegal International wins. Daniel Cronin, brother of 2016 Tarmac champion Keith, is also heading to Galway in the Fiesta the elder Cronin, a four-time British champion, will use on the opening round of the BRC series in Wales a week later.
The notable name missing from the R5 contenders is Garry Jennings, winner of the last two Galway Internationals. He'll be there in his WRC Subaru Impreza, which rules him out of the fight for the Tarmac title he won in 2013.
Jennings refuses to switch to a left-hand-drive car, the only R5 type approved under FIA rules, and while the Tarmac Championship organisers have opened the door to right-hand-drive versions, they have thrown the series into disarray by declaring they will not be eligible to win rallies although the driver can win the Championship - a situation Jennings describes as a farce.
"It doesn't make sense," he says. "How can a car be eligible for Championship points but not for victories?"