No go in the forests as snow puts paid to rally
Snow was the last thing Marty McCormack or anyone else expected when they turned up in Limerick for the second round of the Irish Forestry Rally Championship. But it arrived yesterday morning, increasing in intensity to the point where the organisers had to call off the rally on safety grounds.
Their decision proved a lucky break for the Draperstown driver, leader of the Valvoline series and winner of the first round last month.
The treacherous gravel roads saw McCormack spin his R5 Skoda Fabia into a ditch on the first stage as he and the other leading contenders faced the worst of the conditions thanks to the reverse seeding system.
By the time crews arrived back in service at Rockchapel after two stages Keith Power was leading in his Mitsubishi and David Crossen was the top Ulster driver in fourth in his Ford Escort, but with the snow falling heavier than ever, the decision was taken to call a halt.
It came as a relief to McCormack who, despite being stranded in mid-stage, retains his lead in the series and can now turn his attention to the West Cork Rally, second round of the British Championship in which he holds third place.
The Clonakilty-based event, over St Patrick's weekend, also doubles up as round two of the Irish Tarmac Championship and is shaping up to be a fierce battle between the main protagonists in both competitions.
Matt Edwards, the reigning British champion, and David Bogie, who both finished ahead of McCormack in Wales, are on the entry list for the BRC's first visit to West Cork but they face a strong Irish challenge which will be headed by Craig Breen.
It was the former Citroen WRC driver who won the opening round of the Tarmac series in Galway and he has confirmed he will be back for West Cork in his R5 Ford Escort even though he is due to make his debut in the Italian Championship just six days later.
Breen will be joined by all the regular Tarmac contenders including last year's champion Josh Moffett, his brother Sam, Desi Henry, Declan Boyle and Jonny Greer as well as Alastair Fisher who made an impressive comeback with second place in Galway after a year out.
Former champion Donagh Kelly, a five-time West Cork winner, was absent in Galway but he will be back for his debut in an R5 Skoda Fabia as will Robert Barrable, Callum Devine and Darren Gass, another ex-Tarmac champion.
Making a rare Irish appearance will be former Ford and Citroen WRC star Mikko Hirvonen who will drive a Mk2 Ford Escort.
The Finn, runner-up four times in the World championship, will be here as the guest of Breen after playing a role in the Waterford driver's gravel crew during his three years with Citroen.
The rally, on March 16/17, will feature 15 classic Cork stages, nine of them on the first day.