Rallying to the cause
Wexford competitors have made mark already
The rallying season is well and truly up and running, and Wexford competitors have been making their mark in all the championships in the early stages.
The first main event was the Carrick-On-Suir Motor Club's Willie Loughman Forestry rally, the opening round of the Valvoline Irish forestry championship.
Conditions were very tricky, and indeed stage three, the fantastic White Mountain stage which skims across the boundaries of Ballywilliam, had to be abandoned halfway through the first run due to severe fog.
Thankfully, it was the only stage to be affected and it left a fantastic day's rallying to be enjoyed by competitors and spectators alike.
Northern Ireland crew Marty McCormack and Barney Mitchell took the honours in their Skoda Fabia R5 after a fine drive.
First local man home was the top seed on the event, Andy Hayes, who navigated for U.S.A.-based Barry McKenna. The crew were one of the favourites for the event, but a heavy dose of the 'flu for McKenna and other slight issues meant fifth overall and second in class was the end result for their efforts.
Seamus O'Grady partnered Keith Power to 14th overall and third in class, while Gary Nolan guided Adrian Hetherington into 16th overall and second two-wheel drive car in the Honda-engined Mk2.
Eoin Neville and John McGrath enjoyed their forestry debut, taking 30th overall and fourth in class, while P.J. Doyle and Peter Ryan took the honours in Class 9 and a fine 48th overall.
It was onto tarmac for the opening round of the Clonakilty Black Pudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, the Galway International rally.
Conditions as always in Galway were extremely tricky. World rally championship regulars Craig Breen and Paul Nagle led the field away in their stunning Ford Fiesta R5. Once settled into their new machine, the pair showed their class to take victory over the impressive Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble.
Wexford crews were represented by Seamus O' Grady and Edward Roche in their Peugeot 205, taking 25th overall in the national section and fifth in class, while James Boland and David Manley took third in class and 39th overall in the national section in their Ford Fiesta R2.
It was back on to the gravel and to Northern Ireland for the Omagh Motor Club's Spring rally, or more commonly referred to as the Omagh Grand Prix!
The pace was hot and heavy from the outset, and local crew Cathan McCourt and Barry McNulty looked to be on course for a popular home victory until an off less than half a mile from the end of the final stage saw their hopes dashed.
Lady luck was shining on Niall McCullagh and Ryan McCloskey who took the win, but only after Mickey Carbin saw his chances disappear when he stalled his car on the start line of the final stage. Carbin and navigator Conor Mohan were left to rue the error, seeing their three-second lead over McCullagh turn into an eight-second deficit which cost them victory.
Upholding Wexford honours was Gary Nolan who once again partnered Adrian Hetherington, with the crew taking a fine fourth overall and two-wheel drive honours.
It was back on to tar and the launch of the third major championship, the Triton Showers Irish National Rally Championship.
Last year's international tarmac champions, Josh Moffett and Wexford's Andy Hayes, showed they had lost none of their pace, storming to an impressive victory on the opening round of the series.
Impressive too were Wexfordman James Stafford and Jeff Case, as the crew powered their Darrian T90 GTR to a similarly impressive two-wheel drive victory and a fine eighth overall in very tricky conditions in a start to finish modified victory.
Seventeenth overall and third in class were Richard Moore and John McCabe in their new Escort, and another man debuting a new Escort was James Bradley who had Brian Rowan on the notes. More commonly seen in a Honda Civic, James showed he was just as suited to a rear-wheel drive, taking 35th overall and second in class.
On his bumper was another local crew, Wexford's Tomás O'Rourke and Tomís Scallan, who took 36th overall and fourth in class.
Taking a fine victory in Class 11F and 48th overall were Wexford's Tommy Foley and David Doyle. John Boland and William Lynch survived a troubled day to take 70th overall and fifth in class, with John Hayes and John Pettit just behind in 71st overall and taking second in Class 3.
Andrew Leacy took his Darrian T90 to 83rd overall, with Ger Kelly and Des Curtis taking second in class and 84th overall in their Peugeot 205.
Rounding out the Wexford contingent were Brendan Furlong and Jack Harris, taking 93rd overall and third in class in another Peugeot 205.
It was back down to the forestry of Limerick for the second round of the Irish Forestry championship. It was to turn out to be one of the craziest days seen recently in rallying, when early morning rain turned to blizzard-like conditions on the opening stage!
Over a dozen cars failed to make it out of the opening stage, and with no sign of conditions improving, the club were left with no choice but to cancel the event. The results were declared final and it saw Waterford's Keith Power and Mark O'Sullivan take an unexpected victory.
Andy Hayes was once again navigating for Barry McKenna, but just like opening round winner Marty McCormack, they fell foul of the treacherous conditions and didn't make it through the opening test.
Adrian Hetherington and Wexford's Gary Nolan were one of the few crews to have seen this all before when competing in Scotland, and wisely took a sensible approach (for once!) to save the car from any undue mechanical damage. The approach left them 16th overall at the end of the event.
Due to the nature of forestry rallying, the 4wd cars run at the back of the field. With that in mind, Eoin Neville and John McGrath got to see all the carnage unfold in front of them.
They had to slow for at least a dozen crews who were off in dangerous locations. They took 37th overall and fifth in class, but results were irrelevant on a bizarre day's rallying!
Most recently, crews headed to Clonakilty for one of the most popular events in the country, the Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork rally. The snow was replaced by torrential rain on the opening stages, but Craig Breen and Paul Nagle were once again the class of the field to take their second victory in a row.
Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble were equally impressive on their way to second overall as the championship looks set for a fascinating battle between the two highly-talented crews.
James Boland and David Manley were the sole Wexford representatives in the international section, taking 34th overall on their first trip to Clonakilty.
In the national section, as always, the racing was hot and heavy with the tricky conditions catching out many of the pre-event favourites.
Gary Kiernan and Darren O'Brien put in a superb drive to hold the lead from former WRC ace Mikko Hirvonen and Jarno Ottman. Kiernan held an impressive 40-second overnight lead, but Hirvonen charged out of the blocks on Sunday morning to take back twelve seconds.
Kiernan stemmed the tide to take back two seconds from the flying Finns, but it was all to no avail as the Cavan men's impressive run came to an end with mechanical problems on the next stage. That left Hirvonen, a winner of 15 world rally championship events, to take the national victory.
Following the Finns home were Damian Toner and Wexford's John McGrath, who put in a very impressive drive to claim second overall on Damian's first visit to Clonakilty and his first time with John in the passenger's seat.
Two minutes back were Richard Moore and William Lynch who also had a fine drive to take fourth overall in the national section in their Escort.
Andrew Fanning and Andy Hayes were beset by electrical problems all weekend, but still took 22nd overall and third in class, while Gareth Lloyd and Davy Byrne debuted their fantastic BMW M3 and took 25th overall.