Craig Breen & Paul Nagle (Fiesta R5) were the winners of the 41st Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally when they had 22.2 seconds to spare over Alastair Fisher & Gordon Noble (Fiesta R5) after 240km of relentless action on St. Patricks weekend. In a repeat of the previous months Galway International Rally, Breen edged ahead early on and managed the rally from then on, pulling out small gaps here and there and not allowing any of his rivals to take chunks of time from him. Tom Cave & James Morgan took third place in their Hyundai i20 R5 after a terrific battle with Matt Edwards & Patrick Walsh’s Fiesta R5, and top BRC points into the bargain.
The Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally saw a crossover of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship and British Rally Championship crews as the rally was the second round of both series. Over 140 cars took to the start with R5 cars taking all of the top 22 start positions in what promised to be one of the closest battles in recent times. The route consisted of fifteen stages including one sort blast near the host town of Clonakilty on the Saturday evening. 240km of stages were on the itinerary and it had the makings of being the toughest West Cork Rally in a while.
Top seeds were Donagh Kelly & Conor Foley with Donagh making his debut in a Skoda R5 and he was under no illusions about the task that lay ahead. Because he hadn’t competed on Irish tar in an R5 before he elected to start down the order as he got used to the cars characteristics. Craig Breen & Pau Nagle at two were to run first on the road due to FIA priority seeding and their Fiesta was one of six in the top ten. Craig had never competed in West Cork before, while Paul was a twice winner with Donie O’Sullivan. 2018 Tarmac Champion Josh Moffett was next up followed by Alastair Fisher who was keep to repeat his performance from Galway where he pushed Breen very hard.
Matt Edwards with Patrick Walsh on the notes was another West Cork newcomer in an M-Sport Fiesta R5. Sam Moffett & James Fulton at six were looking to bounce back from a first stage retirement in Galway and were looking to use their prior knowledge of the event to their advantage. 2011 winners Robert Barrable & Damien Connolly were out in a hired Skoda Fabia R5 followed by the similar car of Desi Henry and Liam Moynihan. David Bogie from Scotland with Irish co-driver John Rowan on the notes were in yet another Fabia at number nine with Declan & Brian Boyle rounding off the top ten in another Fiesta.
The quality didn’t stop there with drivers such as Tom Cave, Marty McCormack, Jonny Greer, Stephen Wright and Daniel Cronin among those who were capable of upsetting those seeded above them. The R2 class was well supported with the BRC juniors complementing the Irish drivers and producing a very competitive field. There were also a number of Group N cars entered including 2017 & 18 Tarmac Group N champion Willie Mavitty and Andy Davies from Wales who took top points in Galway.
The conditions could only be described as horrendous with strong winds and heavy rain lashing down to leave the opening pair of stages at Ring and Dunworley absolutely saturated. Ring in particular was very difficult with standing water in some areas and grip non-existent in other areas. Needless to say there were many comments of how difficult it was and how many ‘near ones’ there were over the course of the opening stage. Josh Moffett mastered the conditions best on the opening stage with a time of 8:04.9 while Robert Barrable and Tom Cave were in close attendance. It was particularly impressive from Cave having been caught behind Marty McCormack for a little while and had to take evasive action when the Skoda driver spun. Declan Boyle tends not to have much luck on the opening stage of West Cork and this year was no different as his Fiesta stopped early on Ring and it took six minutes to get it going again. Breen held fifth place after a slide on the stage while Fisher complained of the back end of the car being unstable and was fifteen seconds off the pace. David Bogie reckoned the brakes were too spongy and dropped thirty seconds to the leaders. Meirion Evans and Brendan Cumiskey spun on one particularly slippy junction while Manus Kelly clouted a bank at the same location and damaged the axle. Manus got the car sorted out and re-joined under Rally 2 later in the day to get more time in the car. Local driver Cal McCarthy out in a Citroen DS3 R5 was also destined for a short run with a trip to the scenery and damaging the radiator.
The second stage at Dunworley was also very wet but had much more grip due to its more abrasive nature and all of the top crews negotiated it safely. Prior to the event Breen had said it was the nicest of the rally and he set a stunning time seven seconds quicker than Moffett to move into the lead. Barrable moved into third place with Callum Devine impressing on his second ever R5 on tarmac and slotting into fourth. Cave hit problems with brakes and dropped to eighth overall. After service the same two stages were repeated and once again Ring claimed some victims with both Desi Henry and Alex Laffey joining the list of retirements having spun into banks and damaged wheels. Daniel Cronin was out due to an overheating engine having been lying in the top ten, Meirion Evans succumbed to fuel pressure problems and Michael Boyle was stopped in his Evo. Evans and Boyle did re-join through Rally 2 later in the day. In the RC4 class the battle was raging between Marty Gallagher, Josh McErlean, Jordan Hone and James Wilson, with Wilson dropping time after visits to the scenery on both stages 3 and 4. Out in front Breen was putting the squeeze on his rivals and had moved to an 11.9 second lead over Moffett. Fisher was much happier with the car now and held third including taking a fastest time on stage 4. Sam Moffett, Robert Barrable and Tom Cave held the top six places at the second service.
Mercifully the weather picked up later in the afternoon and the roads were relatively dry for the Shanaway & Sam’s Cross stages. Matt Edwards took fastest time from Breen who extended his lead over Moffett to fourteen seconds. David Bogie slipped off the road on stage 5 and when he eventually regained it, he was clipped by Donagh Kelly who broke a wheel and retired. Bogie did get out of the stage but suffered a big time loss as the stage was cancelled for the remainder of the crews. Stage 6 saw Josh Moffetts challenge falter as a broke prop shaft cost the Monaghan driver over a minute. Tom Cave suffered a puncture on stage 7 which cost him over 20 seconds and dropped him to fourth behind Edwards. The remaining stages at Sam’s Cross and the short Clonakilty town stage were relatively uneventful as Breen took a 26.8 second overnight lead from Fisher. Edwards held the upper hand in the BRC battle by six seconds over Cave while Sam Moffett had nudged ahead of Devine for fifth place by just one second. Jordan Hone led the 2WD international brigade overnight after Marty Gallagher crashed out of the lead on Stage 6. Group N saw William Mavitty lead by over a minute from Andy Davies.
Top 10 Overnight:
1 – Craig Breen & Paul Nagle Ford Fiesta R5 1:07:49.1
2 – Alastair Fisher & Gordon Noble Ford Fiesta R5 1:08:15.9
3 – Matt Edwards & Patrick Walsh Ford Fiesta R5 1:08:36.7
4 – Tom Cave & James Morgan Hyundai i20 R5 1:08:43.5
5 – Sam Moffett & James Fulton Ford Fiesta R5 1:09:04.3
6 – Callum Devine & Brian Hoy Ford Fiesta R5 1:09:05.4
7 – Robert Barrable & Damien Connolly Skoda Fabia R5 1:09:37.3
8 – Josh Moffett & Keith Moriarty Ford Fiesta R5 1:09:46.9
9 – Marty McCormack & Barney Mitchell Skoda Fabia R5 1:09:48.9
10 – Jonny Greer & Kirsty Riddick Ford Fiesta R5 1:10:19.3
Sunday’s midday start saw the weather take a huge turn for the better, and despite a cold wind, the sun shone and the roads were dry. Fisher set out to make inroads on Breen’s lead and took 2.2 seconds back on the Clogagh test. Cave set a stunning time to move ahead of Edwards as the BRC battle looked to be going right to the wire. Josh Moffett set a good time to move ahead of Barrable who seemed to have gone off the pace somewhat after a bright start. Michael Boyle who had been out on Rally 2 went off the road and permanent retirement on Clogagh while his group N rivals Mavitty and Davies were still going strong. Breen took fastest time on Ballinascarthy to keep the Fisher charge in check while Stephen McCann who had been performing well and lying in twelfth place on his first visit to West Cork went off the road and out of the rally on this stage. The final stage before service was a short sharp blast over Ardfield which saw Edwards snatch back third place from Cave. Barrable fell to ninth after a lurid spin and stall on the Ballinascarthy stage while left McCormack move ahead of him. Jer O’Donovan (Skoda S2000) and Jordan Reynolds (Fiesta R2) were the other retirements from the opening loop of the day.
The final three stages saw Breen keep Fisher at arm’s length to take victory by 22.2 seconds and extend his lead in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship. The BRC battle in third place went in favour of Cave by just 4.8 seconds over Edwards with both drivers putting in some incredible times during the day. Sam Moffett in fifth place was almost a minute behind Edwards but had enough in hand to finish above Devine. Josh Moffett in seventh place was rueing the sixth stage time loss and he had to settle for seventh overall ahead of Barrable who moved back up to eighth at the expense of McCormack who was happy with fourth place BRC points. Jonny Greer repeated his tenth place result from the 2018 event and Stephen Wright in eleventh place was over a minute further back. Cathan McCourt in twelfth place acquitted himself well on his first West Cork trip and he was followed by David Guest who was delighted with the performance of his Skoda S2000. David Bogie & John Rowan battled their way back to fourteenth overall ahead of Josh McErlean & Keaton Williams who were top RC4 crew home in fifteenth overall. McErlean had been locked in battle with Jordan Hone until the latter retired on the final loop. William Mavitty (Lancer) won Group N from Andy Davies (Impreza).
Top 10 Overall:
1 – Craig Breen & Paul Nagle Ford Fiesta R5 1:51:18.6
2 – Alastair Fisher & Gordon Noble Ford Fiesta R5 1:51:40.8
3 – Tom Cave & James Morgan Hyundai i20 R5 1:51:55.9
4 – Matt Edwards & Patrick Walsh Ford Fiesta R5 1:52:00.7
5 – Sam Moffett & James Fulton Ford Fiesta R5 1:52:52.9
6 – Callum Devine & Brian Hoy Ford Fiesta R5 1:53:00.0
7 – Josh Moffett & Keith Moriarty Ford Fiesta R5 1:53:40.5
8 – Robert Barrable & Damien Connolly Skoda Fabia R5 1:54:05.9
9 – Marty McCormack & Barney Mitchell Skoda Fabia R5 1:54:13.7
10 – Jonny Greer & Kirsty Riddick Ford Fiesta R5 1:55:18.0