Variety is very essence of the 36th International Rally of the Lakes as one of the biggest Motorsport events in Ireland gets underway in Killarney next Friday. The International, National, Historic and Junior sections of the rally has attracted top class entries in some of the most beautiful and iconic rally cars ever assembled for an Irish event. Add in the stunning scenery along the Wild Atlantic Way and the amazing vistas of the mountain passes of the McGillicuddy Reeks and Caha Mountains, where the bulk of the competitive action is to take place, and drivers from all over Europe and the USA makes this the top sporting occasion in the country at the weekend.
For the third year in a row the rally is a counting round of the FIA European Historic Rally championship. However, the honour of leading the field away goes to local crew Denis Moynihan and Ger Conway. The Ford Escort Mk1 crew from Millstreet and Killarney are the defending historic rally champions and since last year’s victory have added the Killarney Historic Rally title to their impressive CV. The first of the overseas crews comes in the shape of London-based Northern Irish father and son team Ernie and Will Graham in their Mk2 Escort. One of the most eagerly anticipated cars will be the arrival of the late Bertie Fisher’s Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4. The great Fermanagh man won the lakes in this very car in 1991, and now fully restored, and eligible for historic rallying, makes a welcome return to Killarney in the hands of Boston-based Galway man Frank Cunningham. He runs ahead of the rally’s Italian and Swedish visitors in a host of exotic rally machinery including Porsche 911 and Opel Asconas.
Defending Clonakilty Black Pudding Irish Tarmac Champion Declan Boyle leads the international field. Last year. the Donegal man became the second driver in history, to win both the Irish Tarmac and National rally titles in the same year. The only other driver to do this was Tim McNulty and Boyle drives the very Subaru that McNulty steered to victory in Killarney in 2009. Second on the road is the man of the moment in Irish rallying, Donagh Kelly. Another Donegal man, he has three wins form three starts across international and national rallies so far this year (this was written before the Monaghan Stages on April 26) but the Ford Focus driver will be hoping to put the disappointment of crashing out of the lead of last year’s rally within sight of the finish.
Corkman Daragh O’Riordan is chasing his third Killarney win but the Ford Fiesta drive has unpleasant memories of the Tim Healy Pass stage. Two years ago, the last time this stage was used, he crashed out of the lead of the rally. It was not clear at the time of going to press, if 2013 winner Garry Jennings was going to make the start or not.
Dubliner Robert Barrable makes his World Rally Car debut at the wheel of a McKinstry Motorsport hired Impreza. He could be a dark horse for victory given how close he came to winning last month’s Circuit of Ireland in a European Rally Championship specification Ford Fiesta. Alan Ring cannot be discounted either. The local hero was second overall last year and in recent weeks won the Fel’s Point Hotel Circuit of Kerry Rally. This will only be his sixth outing in an Impreza World Car but he did promise at the end of the Tralee-based event that there was much more to come and it could be a case of watch this space. Another international rally competitor to keep an eye on is Monaghan’s Stephen Wright. He is co-driven by local man Mikie Galvin an a Ford Fiesta.
Roy White, a long-time visitor to Killarney tops the National entry list in his four-wheel drive MG ZR. He will be co-driven by Kanturk’s James O’Brien, a double winner of the Rally of the Lakes alongside Andrew Nesbitt. His chief opposition will come from Declan Gallagher in his Toyota Starlet. The Milkman as he is known as has won the Killarney Historic national rally in the past.
Top local seed is Kilorglin’s Fergus O’Meara and Brian Doherty. The lead a fleet of local Mk2 Escort’s that includes Vincent O’Shea and Brian Hickey from Kenmare, John Hickey and John McCarthy from Headford Tadgh O’Sullivan and Eoin O’Leary and Charlie and Johnny Hickey from Killarney. Indeed it is Charlie’s 30th attempt at his home rally and face Moll’s Gap on Saturday morning for over the 100th time.
Robert Duggan is the top seed in the junior rally in his Ford Fiesta and he will be co-driven by Abbeyfeale’s Keith Moriarty for the first time. Rob’s older brother Andrew makes his rally debut at the wheel of a Ford Escort with sister Tara on co-driving duty.
OFFICIAL START AND ROUTE The three-day event will begin with a ceremonial start in Killarney’s town centre on Friday May 1 from 7pm. Live music, a parade of leading cars and an opportunity to meet and greet the top drivers will be presented by Irish rallying broadcasting legend Dougie Hughes and local businessman Mike Moriarty before the rally start on Saturday morning.
Dermot Healy, clerk of the course explained the route. “Saturday morning kicks off with the iconic Molls Gap, followed by the Tim Healy Pass and centralised service on Castletownbere Pier. Then it’s time to head out on the famous stages of Cods Head and Ardgroom with a repeat run over the Healy Pass and into service for a well deserved break. Cods Head and Ardgroom are repeated and a blast through the Kilmakilloge harbour stage to finish off the day. Sunday morning starts with Molls Gap once again, followed by the mountainous Beallaghbeama Pass and the fast flowing Shanera stage, Then into service at Liebherr Container cranes Killarney. This Loop is of Molls Gap and Beallaghbeama Pass is repeated and into service again, before heading out to the spectator friendly loop of Rockfield, Shanera and Rockfield stages.”
The rally will be backed by Cartell.ie for the sixth consecutive year.
Mr Healy added: “We are delighted to welcom for their sixth successive year Ireland’s leading vehicle history record company Cartell.ie is the main sponsor of the Rally of the Lakes 2015. KC Print Killarney, Ordnance Survey Ireland and the Gleneagle Hotel, who have been the main supporters of the Rally of the Lakes for many years, continue as Associate Sponsors.”