The Valvoline Irish Forest Rally Championship starts early this year with the first foray into the forests in Donegal on January 31st. With dedicated TV coverage once again and a seven round calendar featuring many of the best forestry special stages in Ireland, interest is high in the series. The overall title challenge looks to be fought out amongst a contingent of Mitsubishi Evo 9’s.
The 2014 Champion, Cork’s Owen Murphy would like to contest the full series, but budget is an issue. “It’s a brilliant series, and I would like to commit to the whole championship, but realistically this season we only have the budget at the moment to contest the events that are quite close to home. Last year, it was fantastic to get the title, and it looks ultra- competitive again this season.” The title race is wide open, and the Moffett’s from Monaghan are amongst the favourites. Josh is planning a full title assault in a new development of the Evo 9 from Gerry McGarrity, whilst older brother Sam will be using his Group N version. WRC Rally GB winner Philip Morrow is also considering entering the Donegal Forestry. “The car still has a few miles to do before it’s rebuild. It depends on work, but I haven’t ruled out a run out in Donegal and then see from there” commented the Lisburn driver.
Portglenone’s Desi Henry, who won last season’s final Glens of Antrim round is also mounting a full attack in another Group A Evo 9. “I’m really looking forward to it” commented Desi. “There is going to be some race, particularly with a lot of us competing in similar cars, it could be very close racing in the woods! The series is getting stronger and it’s a varied calendar also.” Desi’s brother Niall will make it a two car PRH Construction team.
Tipped by several drivers as a real threat is the appearance of Andrew Purcell with Liam Brennan co-driving, and in an Evo 9 this time. Andrew, currently in America on honeymoon after his marriage to Sarah Moynihan led the series back in 2008, and has the distinction of winning rounds as a driver and a co-driver. “Last year we took the Evo 6 to some events, but I was really having to drive it at eleven tenths all the time. I’m hoping that the 9 will make it easier for me, and we really want to have a crack at the title. I’ll probably be quite glad of
the break in the middle of the year to re-coup the funds and then it’s all go again!” Adding more spice to the main battle will be the pretty R5 plus specification Fiesta driven by Pauric Duffy, and he is currently on a test programme ahead of round one. Last year’s Bushwhacker round winner Martin Cairns looks set for Donegal too in his S14 Impreza WRC, and with the odd surprise entry still to come, it’s promising to be an epic struggle.
In the coveted Valvoline Two Wheel Drive section, Adrian Hetherington is an early entry for Donegal, and Castleblayney’s Mickey Conlon is set for a title attack. Alan Atcheson is another driver looking set for Donegal, but last year’s champion Shane McGirr has other commitments. “We are building a house this year, so I won’t be committing to a championship, but will do the odd round” commented Shane. Frank Kelly is in a similar situation. “Our main focus this year is on the Tarmac National series, but I love the forests and there are rounds of the Irish Forest Championship I will have to be at! Things can change though, as I have a fixed number of rallies planned, but no one around home believes I’ll stick to those!”
The Junior section once again has the bonus of an automatic Billy Coleman Award nomination for the series winner, and last year’s winner Conor McCarthy looks set to make a few more appearances with his Honda in 2015, with Cousin Cal looking to try a different car in the forests also. There is an added incentive for the first Valvoline Junior finisher in Donegal. Thanks to the motor club the winner will receive a free entry to the Junior section of the Donegal International in June!
The ever present class battles will fought out all season, and the ever important clubmen will thrill the crowds as they slide sideways around the Irish Forestry roads. If you go down to the woods on the 31st January you’ll be sure of a few surprises!
2015 Valvoline Irish Forest Rally Calendar
Round 1 – Donegal Forest Rally (31st January)
Round 2 – Willie Loughman Carrick on Suir Forest Rally (1st March)
Round 3 – Munster CC Moonraker Forest Rally (12th April)
Round 4 – Jim Walsh Cork Forest Rally (23rd August)
Round 5 – Enniskillen Lakelands Forest Rally (5th September)
Round 6 – Mayo Forest Rally (18th October)
Round 7 – Glens of Antrim Forest Rally (7th November)
Copyright free images please credit Ger Leahy Photography