Donagh Kelly & Kevin Flanagan became only the third crew ever to win the Quality Hotel Clonakilty West Cork Rally two years in a row when they had a start to finish victory over St. Patrick’s weekend in their Ford Focus WRC. Second overall were a hard chasing Sam Moffett & Karl Atkinson in a Fiesta WRC who finished just over a minute behind, while a superb performance from Stephen Wright and Mikie Galvin in a Fiesta R5 netted them third overall. 150 cars started the in the main field, which had a high attrition rate particularly on the first day and at the end of the fourteen stages only 90 were classified as finishers. Denis Moynihan and Gerard Conway took the honours in the Historic Rally after a tough battle with Rob Smith and Alun Cook who retired on the final stage. The junior rally was won by Rob Duggan & Keith Moriarty in a Fiesta R2.
Dry and slightly frosty conditions was the scene that greeted crews as they headed to Parc Ferme, but by the 10.30 start, all frost was gone and the sun was shining with good conditions. A lot of rain had fallen on the Thursday before the event and some standing water was to be found on the second stage in Clogagh, but for the most part roads were dry. The inclusion of the rally as a full round of the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship had meant a high quality entry had assembled. Donagh Kelly and Kevin Flanagan were top seeds having won the previous year, and with wins already this year in Galway and Birr, they were in a confident frame of mind. The reigning Tarmac Champions Declan & Brian Boyle in a Subaru WRC were at two and hoping to end a run of bad luck in recent events. Daragh O’Riordan & Tony McDaid were at three in a Fiesta WRC making his first appearance in several months while Sam Moffett & Karl Atkinson were next up in a similar car.
Melvyn Evans & Mark Glennerster were at five in a Subaru Impreza WRC and Melvyn was hoping for a longer outing than twelve months previously when a gearbox problem put him out on the opening stage. Josh Moffett & John Rowan were at six in yet another Fiesta WRC while Owen Murphy and Anthony Nestor were at seven in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9. Jonny Greer & Kirsty Riddick at eight were out in a Citroen DS3 R5 and looking to get more miles and seat time before the Circuit of Ireland while Stephen Wright and Mikie Galvin at nine were also in an R5 car, this time a Fiesta. Declan Gallagher and Ryan Moore were at ten in a Toyota Starlet and hoping to win the Bones O’Connor Modified Challenge award for the second year in succession.
Donagh Kelly set out his stall on the opening stage setting a time of 7.31.6 to go into an immediate lead by 4.7 seconds from Sam Moffett and Daragh O’Riordan a further four seconds behind in third place. Declan Boyle was already in major bother as fuel pressure problems caused his car to stop in Ring village which caused his retirement. He wasn’t the only one in trouble as Joe McGonigle was forced to retire with suspension damage after he hit the rear of his Skoda Fabia midway through the stage. Damien McCarthy and Ray O’Sullivan retired their respective cars after hitting the same corner as McGonigle as twelve cars in total failed to complete the opening stage. The second stage of the loop was Clogagh and Kelly extended his lead out to 14.8 seconds from Moffett. The stage was stopped after Phil Collins and Diarmuid Falvey crashed their Escort, fortunately without injury to the crew.
The next pair of stages was a repeat of the morning stages and Declan Boyle had got his car sorted and was back running under Rally 2 rules. He immediately set a fastest time on Ring to show what might have been as Kelly kept control of the rally from the front. After four stages the gap was out to 25.3 seconds from Sam Moffett with Daragh O’Riordan a further ten seconds behind. Josh Moffett, Owen Murphy and Melvyn Evans were having a great battle for fourth place and were separated by less than eight seconds. Declan Gallagher was giving another two wheel drive master class and was in seventh place overall while Stephen Wright, Mark Straker (Darrian), and John Bonner (Escort) rounded off the top ten. Liam Howlett and Richard Whelan were another pair to retire as the attrition rate continued to rise.
The afternoon stages were Newcestown and Ballinascarthy, both used twice and the former was a stage that hadn’t been used on the event for many years. The gap was out to 32 seconds by the end of stage six despite Sam Moffetts best efforts while O’Riordan was falling back into the clutches of Josh Moffett who was on a real charge by this point. Adrian Hetherington became the latest top seed to retire due to a problem with the rear suspension, but was to re-join under Rally 2 on the Sunday. The last pair of stages saw a few more of the top ten drop out as Josh Moffett had spark plug problems and Owen Murphy damaged the radiator when he overshot a junction on stage 7 and had to retire. Sam Moffett had a very lucky escape on this corner but other than a vibration caused by mud in the wheels was still in second place. Kelly led by 48.2 seconds overnight from Sam Moffett with Daragh O’Riordan still holding third place almost a minute further back. Melvyn Evans was in fourth but retired his car overnight due to persistent throttle problems.
Stephen Wright was getting quicker as he got used to his new car and was now up to fifth while Declan Gallagher had put in a sensational performance to hold sixth overall. Jonny Greer was also getting more confident in his DS3 and had climbed to seventh overall as John Bonner seeded at 53 was a magnificent eighth overall. The top ten was rounded off by Vincent McSweeney (Civic) and Mark Straker as just over 120 cars got to the end of the first day. Declan Boyle was another to decide to retire overnight as he was too far down the order to make any further impression on the leaders. The Historic category was very competitive with Rob Smith impressing on his first appearance in West Cork and holding a 7.4 second lead over Denis Moynihan overnight. Gareth Lloyd and Ernie Graham were renewing their Galway rivalry with the Welshman holding a 22 second advantage in third place.
Ardfield, Sams Cross and Rossmore to be completed twice were the three stages to be tackled on the second day with a long service after the first loop. Despite running in Rally 2 and in 53rd overall, Josh Moffett set a stunning time over Ardfield 1 as Donagh Kelly lost a little bit of time with a spin and stall on the first junction of the stage which closed the gap at the front to just 44 seconds. Kelly responded with a good time on Sams Cross which pushed his lead back out to 47 seconds. Cal McCarthy had been lying in twelfth place overnight but crashed out on the opening Ardfield test as Gary Kiernan moved up from 11th to 8th overall after an excellent start to the day.
By the end of the first loop of stages barring a disaster Kelly was almost uncatchable with a lead of 51 seconds despite Sam Moffetts best efforts, while a puncture ended Daragh O’Riordans chances of a podium finish as he lost over five minutes. This promoted Stephen Wright into third place while Declan Gallagher was now in fourth but coming under pressure from Jonny Greer who was really getting to grips with Citroen and putting in some very good times. John Bonner and Gary Kiernan were having a ferocious battle for seventh overall with Vincent McSweeney ninth overall and Brian Brogan climbing into the top ten. The Historic category was still on a knife edge as Denis Moynihan edged in front of Rob Smith by just 2.4 seconds with just three stages to go. Rob Duggan was leading the juniors as expected but was being pressed hard by James Bradley who was only 21 seconds behind. Such was the pace of the leading duo that third placed Richard Moore was almost two minutes behind!
Over the final three stages Kelly kept his cool to take victory by almost 70 seconds from Sam Moffett who had decided to back off and preserve second place while Stephen Wright netted an excellent third place overall. Jonny Greer was an excellent fourth overall while Daragh O’Riordan overhauled Declan Gallagher for fifth place. Gallagher however managed to retain his Bones O’Connor Modified Challenge trophy for best 2WD after another stunning drive over difficult stages. Seventh was decided on the final stage when an outstanding drive by John Bonner came to a sad end when he went off the road into retirement midway through the test leaving Gary Kiernan to take his second top ten on the event in two years. Brian Brogan withstood a late charge from Wesley Patterson to take eighth place by just three seconds. The top ten was rounded off by Vincent McSweeney and Michael Kearney in their Civic after an excellent performance. Denis Moynihan took the Historic Rally win when Rob Smith stopped on the final stage while Ernie Graham edged out Gareth Lloyd for second place on the category by just 0.8 seconds. Rob Duggan took the honours in the Junior Rally by just over a minute from James Bradley with John O’Sullivan in third place overall.
It was the first time that the West Cork Rally was included as a full Tarmac Championship round, and Clerk of the Course Greg McCarthy had devised a suitably tough route which was well received by the competitors. Donagh Kelly now leads the Tarmac Championship from Sam Moffett by six points and also hopes to come back to Clonakilty in 2016 as he bids to become only the second driver to win the event three times and the first to do it in consecutive years.
Main Field Top 5 Overall
1 – Donagh Kelly & Kevin Flanagan Ford Focus WRC 1:50:11.5
2 – Sam Moffett & Karl Atkinson Ford Fiesta WRC 1:51:20.6
3 – Stephen Wright & Mikie Galvin Ford Fiesta R5 1:54:58.1
4 – Jonny Greer & Kirsty Riddick Citroen DS3 R5 1:57:14.9
5 –Daragh O’Riordan & Tony McDaid Ford Fiesta WRC 1:57:21.0
Historic Top 3 Overall
1 – Denis Moynihan & Gerard Conway Ford Escort Mk1 1:26:19.8
2 – Ernie Graham & Will Graham Ford Escort Mk2 1:28:10.4
3 – Gareth Lloyd & Den Golding Ford Escort Mk2 1:28:11.2
Junior Rally Top 3 Overall
1 – Rob Duggan & Keith Moriarty Ford Fiesta 0:52:39.0
2 – James Bradley & Maria Kehoe Honda Civic 0:53:42.9
3 – John O’Sullivan & J.J. Cremin Honda Civic 0:56:19.8
Kevin O’Driscoll, event PRO