Donagh Kelly and Conor Foley, Ford Focus WRC, on their way to winning Stage 5, Newcestown, on the 2018 Quality Hotel Clonakilty West Cork Rally. (Pic: Kevin O'Driscoll)
There seems to be no stopping Donagh Kelly and his Ford Focus WRC when he comes to Clonakilty as once again he took victory in the Quality Hotel Clonakilty West Cork Rally, a remarkable five wins in a row. Co-driver Conor Foley also created history by becoming the first co-driver to win the event three years in succession (Gerry Hynes also won three times, but in non-consecutive years).
Despite a strong line up pitted against him, Kelly dominated from the start with some blistering times to eventually win the event by 1 minute 45.7 seconds, his biggest winning margin to date. Josh Moffett & Andy Hayes took the runner up spot for the second year in succession, but had the consolation of leading the Irish Tarmac Rally championship after the opening round in their Ford Fiesta R5. His brother Sam, the reigning Tarmac Champion, in a similar car got off to slow start but moved into third place on the second day to finish third overall, just nine seconds behind Josh.
The West Cork Rally was running for the 40th time and Greg McCarthy was Clerk of the Course for a fourth year with Rally HQ being the Quality Hotel who were title sponsors for the 16th year. The Rally was the opening round of the 2018 Irish Tarmac Championship for the first time as well as the FIA Celtic Trophy and the PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 Rally Championship. 140 main field entries were received with 125 eventually starting the event. For 2018 Greg had decided to dispense with the night stage and revert to a 14 stage rally with eight stages on the first day and six on the second day with centralised service in Darrara Agricultural College as usual.
The top ten was strong, headed as expected by Donagh Kelly & Conor Foley in a Focus WRC followed by Sam Moffett & Karl Atkinson in a Ford Fiesta R5. Declan Boyle & James O’Reilly were at three in a Fiesta WRC and tipped to pose the greatest threat to Kelly’s domination. Josh Moffett & Andy Hayes were at four in a Fiesta R5 followed by past winner Robert Barrable & Damien Connolly in a similar car. Jonny Greer & Kirsty Riddick at six had also moved to Ford temporarily as Jonny waits the arrival of a Citroen C3 R5 later in the year and they were followed by Desi Henry & Liam Moynihan who have also moved to Ford for 2018. The Ford domination was broken at eight with Eugene Donnelly a multiple Tarmac Champion making his first visit to West Cork in a Hyundai i20 R5 with Mark Kane on co-driving duties. The top ten were completed by another pair of Fiesta R5s in the hands of Daniel Cronin / Shane Buckley and Stephen Wright / Arthur Kierans.
The quality extended well beyond the top ten with Kevin Eves last year’s Irish Tarmac Modified Champion lining up in his Toyota Corolla followed by Gary Kiernan in a 2.5 Proton Satria which was very much an unknown quantity on Irish tarmac. Adrian Hetherington, Phil Collins, Rob Duggan, Frank Kelly & Ed O’Callaghan were amongst the Escort contingent while John Dalton was making his first appearance on the rally in five years in his new Darrian T90 GTR. David Guest was top seeded Group N driver while Billy Coleman award winner Callum Devine was also making an appearance in a Ford Fiesta R2T.
A bitterly cold east winner chilled spectators on the opening Ring stage which was in a different format this year, incorporating some new sections and also using some of last year’s Dunworley stage. This 12 miler saw Kelly set out his still with a stunning time of 10:17.2 over eighteens seconds clear of Declan Boyle who hit a bank on the stage and he was closely followed by Josh & Sam Moffett respectively. John Dalton in the national rally set a time that would have put him sixth overall as he caught and passed Adrian Hetherington on the stage. However Rob Duggan’s event was over before it really started, his Escort grinding to a halt less than a half a mile into the stage with electrical problems. Kevin Eves lost some time with a car that kept cutting out over bumpy sections. The second stage in Clogagh was more of the same from Donagh as he extended his lead to 31.6 seconds with Josh Moffett moving into second place. Boyle and Sam Moffett were third and fourth while a battle was starting to develop between Henry and Barrable. Another tussle was happening in the next three places between Wright, Cronin and Greer with only eight seconds separating the three. Donnelly was finding the new Hyundai a real baptism of fire as he tried to acclimatise to an R5 for the first time and admitted it was a learning curve.
The second run over Ring and Clogagh had Kelly’s lead almost out to a minute from Josh Moffett with Boyle scaring himself by spinning and mounting a ditch close to the sea which again cost him valuable time. This allowed Sam Moffett to move back into third place overall while the positions below were changing among the various groups. Callum Devine was having an excellent run despite sliding into a muddy bank on the opening test. Dalton and Kiernan were starting to pull away from the rest of the national pack as Stuart Darcy who had been much closer dropped valuable time with a spin on Stage three, but still held third place. Ross Marshall & John O’Donnell were among other early retirements when they went off the road on stages 1 and 4 respectively.
Stages 5-8 were Newcestown and Ballinascarthy to be tackled twice and Kelly eased back a little but still extended his lead to almost a minute and half by the end of the first day. Josh Moffett was second overall and 25 seconds clear of Boyle who had some suspension problems after his dramas early in the day. Sam Moffett held fourth overall with Henry and Barrable locked in a battle for fifth. Wright, Greer, Cronin & Donnelly completed the top ten with Callum Devines excellent drive seeing him hold 11th overall at the end of the day. David Guest had lost the Group N lead with a driveshaft problem leaving Willie Mavitty ahead in the category and in 12th overall. The National section had Kiernan lead overnight by five seconds from Dalton but Darcy had left the fray on Stage 7 when he left the road and broke a wheel. Vincent McSweeney was also out at this point with gearbox problems putting a sad end of a fine drive.
The Historic Rally began on Stage 5 and the Newcestown test saw Neil Williams move into an early lead from Martin Doherty by just two seconds. Barry Jones, the current Irish Tarmac Historic Champion, Owen Murphy and Wyn Hughes were next with the top five separated by just 8 seconds. The following stage at Ballinascarthy saw two of those out of contention as Williams lost several minutes with alternator problems and Hughes hit a bridge losing five places. Dewi Bowen was also forced out with water pump failure having been sixth on the opening test. Jones led overnight and had a 4.2 second advantage over Murphy with Doherty a further thirteen seconds back.
The threat of snow was in the air despite bright sunshine as the action resumed with the opening stage of the day at Ardfield. Donagh Kelly has long said that this was his favourite West Cork stage and set about proving the point with another fastest time, six clear of Boyle who was putting pressure on Josh Moffett. It was Desi Henry who was quickest R5 car on Ardfield with third fastest time, but Barrable was keeping the pressure on and was still only eight seconds behind him. The National rally lost Ed O’Callaghan on Ardfield with engine problems following a huge overshoot earlier in the stage. Wesley Patterson and John Dalton also overshot the same junction, but Dalton still managed quickest time to move into a joint lead with Kiernan. Kyle McGettigans rally ended early on the stage when he went off the road as he attempted to force his way into the top ten.
Sam Cross and Rossmore were next on the list and Kelly eased back slightly again to manage his lead of just less than two minutes. A great drive from Henry saw him take fastest on Stage 11 Rossmore, while Josh Moffett was struggling a little with throttle problems. Declan Boyle was also in bother as his Fiesta struggled with rear suspension maladies. Colin Quirk put his Ford Fiesta R5 off the road on Stage 10 Sam’s Cross, while Frank Kelly was forced out after a manifold problem with his Escort, ruining an excellent drive. Manifold problems were also stymieing David Guest’s attempts to move back into the Group N lead which was still held by Willie Mavitty. Gary Kiernan looked to have wrapped up the National Rally as John Dalton suffered suspension problems and then a puncture on Rossmore which dropped him over a minute, but he still held second place.
The last loop of stages was all about Kelly keeping things steady and he achieved this with the minimum of fuss, taking a remarkable fifth consecutive win the process. Josh Moffett did enough to hold second place despite a second day charge from his brother, with Sam much happier with his Sunday performance. Boyle dropped to fourth as he continued to struggle with the cars handling, and Barrable moved into fifth place as a spin and a stall from Henry cost him valuable seconds and dropped him to sixth place. Daniel Cronin edged ahead of Stephen Wright to take seventh place with a late charge, and Donnelly took ninth place after a time consuming puncture cost Greer several minutes and dropped him to tenth. Devine was an outstanding 11th overall and he was well pleased with the performance of the car.
Mavitty held onto twelfth place and took Group N honours while Stephen Carey making an all too rare appearance these days had an excellent drive into thirteenth in his Fiesta R2. David Guest and Jer O’Donovan completed the top fifteen places. The national rally was comfortably won by Gary Kiernan as Dalton eased back to settle for second overall. Kevin Eves took third place despite a late challenge from Jason McSweeney and John Bonner who finished fourth and fifth respectively. Eugene Meegan took sixth overall in his BMW 1M with local drive Conor McCarthy finishing seventh in his Mitsubishi Lancer. The top ten were completed by Damian Tourish, Phil Collins and Kevin O’Donoghue as Adrian Hetherington dropped back after a puncture on the second day.
Owen Murphy took the Historic win after a great battle with Barry Jones; the winning margin was just over 20 seconds. Duncan Williams finished in third place with Denis Cronin finishing fourth overall after losing some time on the second day. Wyn Hughes edged Andy Johnson for fifth place on the final stage as Martin Doherty and Alan Watkins were among the retirements on the Sunday. A great battle also took place in the Junior rally as Gary McNamee took victory by just 8.4 seconds over Colin O’Donoghue. These two had swapped places during the day with the biggest margin between them being the eight seconds at the end. Mick Lonergan took an excellent third place from Fergus Hurley who put in a big push on the final stage to make the podium but fell short by less than five seconds.
2018 Top Ten Overall
(1) Donagh Kelly / Conor Foley Ford Focus WRC 1:52:53.8
(4) Josh Moffett / Andy Hayes Ford Fiesta R5 1:54:39.6
(2) Sam Moffett / Karl Atkinson Ford Fiesta R5 1:54:48.9
(3) Declan Boyle / James O’Reilly Ford Fiesta WRC 1:56:03.4
(5) Robert Barrable / Damien Connolly Ford Fiesta R5 1:56:13.1
(7) Desi Henry / Liam Moynihan Ford Fiesta R5 1:56:29.4
(9) Daniel Cronin / Shane Buckley Ford Fiesta R5 1:57:51.3
(10) Stephen Wright / Arthur Kierans Ford Fiesta R5 1:58:11.0
(8) Eugene Donnelly / Mark Kane Hyundai i20 R5 2:00:29.4
(6) Jonny Greer / Kirsty Riddick Ford Fiesta R5 2:01:33.7
2018 Top 10 National Rally
(14) Gary Kiernan / Ryan Moore Proton Satria S2500 1:58:28.7
(16) John Dalton / Gwynfor Jones Darrian T90 GTR 2:00:34.0
(12) Kevin Eves / Chris Melly Toyota Corolla 2:02:05.6
(24) Jason McSweeney / Anthony O’Conaill Mitsubishi Evo 9 2:02:16.1
(36) John Bonner / Emmet Sherry Ford Escort Mk2 2:02:23.7
(28) Eugene Meegan / Daragh Mullen BMW 1M 2:02:45.7
(48) Conor McCarthy / J.J. Cremin Mitsubishi Evo 9 2:04:14.3
(21) Damien Tourish / Domhnall McAlaney Ford Escort Mk2 2:04:25.2
(23) Phil Collins / Adrian Deasy Ford Escort Mk2 2:04:57.4
(43) Kevin O’Donoghue / David Randles BMW M3 2:05:04.3
2018 Top 6 Historic Rally
(H2) Owen Murphy / Anthony Nestor Talbot Sunbeam Lotus 1:25:46.0
(H1) Barry Jones / Iwan Griffiths Ford Escort Mk1 1:26:07.6
(H12) Duncan Williams / Llion Williams Ford Escort Mk2 1:29:37.9
(H5) Denis Cronin / Helen O’Sullivan Ford Escort Mk2 1:30:37.1
(H7) Wyn ‘Spot’ Hughes / David Davies Ford Escort Mk2 1:32:04.7
(H9) Andy Johnson / Jim McSherry Vauxhall Chevette HSR 1:32:06.5
2018 Top 6 Junior Rally
(J21) Gary McNamee / Brian Brady Honda Civic 0:50:34.5
(J22) Colin O’Donoghue / Donagh Crowley Ford Escort Mk2 0:50:42.9
(J4) Mick Lonergan / Shane Corcoran Honda Civic 0:53:04.5
(J1) Fergus Hurley / Eric Deane Ford Escort Mk2 0:53:09.4
(J2) Eamonn McCarthy / Declan Buttimer Honda Civic 0:54:04.7
(J3) Killian O’Sullivan / Conal O’Sullivan Honda Civic 0:54:47.2