Rally switch to R5 cars finally takes hold
It has taken a while but Irish rallying's love affair with the powerful but now ageing WRC cars is coming to an end as more and more leading drivers embrace the move to the R5 category.
The switch is reflected in the entry list for Sunday's opening round of the 2019 Irish Tarmac Championship, the Corrib Oil Galway International, with just two WRC cars in the top 15 starters. There was a time when they would have filled the top 20 but now R5 cars dominate, almost two dozen of them at the head of the 120-plus field.
Only Garry Jennings (Subaru Impreza), the Galway winner on the last two occasions the rally was run, and Joe McGonigle (BMW Mini) feature in WRC cars in a line-up which is led by the R5 Ford Fiesta of Craig Breen, who makes his first appearance in a Tarmac round in four years.
Jennings is seeded at two ahead of the Moffett brothers, Josh and Sam, Tarmac champions in 2018 and '17 respectively, with Alastair Fisher returning after a year away at No.4.
The most significant drivers switching to R5 are at six and seven, former Tarmac champions Declan Boyle and Donagh Kelly who had stubbornly stuck with their WRC cars until now.
Desi Henry is the leading Ulster starter at No.8 in his Skoda Fabia ahead of the return of Jon Armstrong, the World eRally champion. The Fermanagh driver impressed in two WRC2 World Championship appearances in 2017, his reward for success in the DMACK Fiesta Trophy. But without a budget to continue he switched to virtual rallying and, from thousands of entries, won the World eRally crown - and a Hyundai i20 Coupe.
Now a consultant on the new DiRT Rally2, he will be doing it for real again in Galway with the support of Codemasters gaming.
Top of the Galway list: 1 Craig Breen (Ford Fiesta), 2 Garry Jennings (Subaru Impreza), 3 Josh Moffett (Ford Fiesta), 4 Sam Moffett (Ford Fiesta), 5 Alastair Fisher (Ford Fiesta), 6 Declan Boyle (Ford Fiesta), 7 Donagh Kelly (Skoda Fabia), 8 Desi Henry (Skoda Fabia), 9 Jon Armstrong (Ford Fiesta), 10 Manus Kelly (Hyundai i20), 11 Joe McGonigle (BMW Mini), 12 Jonathan Greer (Ford Fiesta), 14 Daniel Cronin (Ford Fiesta), 15 Meirion Evans (Hyundai i20).