As is the norm, the second weekend in September will this year see the 45th running of the Wexford Volkswagen Stages Rally. Volkswagen Wexford have joined forces with the Wexford motor club in a new five-year sponsorship deal which will hopefully see the event grow from strength to strength, as the club strive to make the event one of the best in the country.
The two day fifteen stage event will see the cars and crews traversing almost 230kms of special stages located in the south of the county. The fast flowing stages are a favourite with the drivers, with many crews making the long trek from the north of the country and indeed from across the water to compete on this year’s event. Even with the tough times motor sport finds itself in with increasing insurance costs, the event will see over 100 crews tackle this year’s event and one thing is guaranteed, a new name will be on the winner’s trophy come Sunday evening.
Heading the field away from the Riverbank House Hotel will be Paddy McVeigh and Gary McElhinney in their Subaru Impreza S12B. The Tyrone man won earlier in the year in Sligo, and a third place finish on the recent Galway Summer rally is showing they are returning to the pace that saw them lead the National championship back in 2014. The S12B is definitely the car to have in Wexford with its out-and-out power and 4wd making it a potent weapon and Paddy will hope to make good use of it this weekend. Following Paddy in another Subaru is Steve Wood and Keith Moriarity. Steve was battling for lead last year when turbo problems caused retirement. He will be hoping for a clean run on this year’s event and looking to challenge McVeigh for overall honours.
The first of the Escorts is at three in the hands of Gary Kiernan and Ryan Moore. Gary got his first experience of 2.5 power on the recent Galway Summer rally, where he took a fantastic second overall. The KGP plant is certainly to his liking and with the recent result in Galway seeing him finish ahead of McVeigh, there’s no doubt Kiernan, along with the other Mk2 men will fancy their chances for overall victory. From one blue Mk2 to another, and at four is Wesley Patterson and Johnny Baird. Wesley has been the Escort man to beat in Wexford in recent years, taking third overall in 2014 and second overall in 2015. Although activities in 2016 were curtailed due to an early season off in Carlow, the Lisburn man is still one of the quickest about and there is no reason why he, along with his Donegal side-kick Johnny Baird cannot challenge for overall honours this weekend.
Rounding out the top five is another former Wexford 2wd winner, Tyrone’s Adrian Hetherington. Adrian with Wexford’s Gary Nolan on the notes has had a mixed season, finishing second 2wd to Brian Brogan in West Cork before crashing out of the lead of the National section on the Donegal International in June. He’s used the Stonethrowers and the Galway Summer to get bedded back in, but will be looking to challenge Kiernan, Patterson and the rest for both 2wd and overall honours this weekend.
At six and seven are two more Escort crews. Enda O’Brien / John Butler topped the 2wd standings on both the Raven’s Rock and Stonethrowers rally and will be looking to make it a hat-trick of wins in Wexford while David Condell / Eugene McGrath narrowly missed out on the Mk2 Challenge title in Carlow this year. Both crews are in good form and they make up the top five of what will be a fiercely contested modified battle. Kevin Barrett / Declan Tumilty are seeded at eight in their Subaru Impreza S14 WRC. Kevin has been a stalwart of Irish rallying over the last 20 years. His S14 is ideally suited to the Wexford roads and Kevin will be hoping for a good run.
One man who is still burning the mid night oil to try and make the start for Wexford is number nine seed Frank Kelly. A major off on the recent Galway Summer rally has left the Moy man under serious pressure and although it looks unlikely we’ll see Frank and navigator John McGrath this weekend, these still hope they can pull it out of the bag and contest the great modified battle in store. Rounding out the top 10 and the first all Wexford crew are Liam Howlett and Enda Kennedy. Liam had a great run on the Rally of the Lakes to take a fine third overall in the National Section, andthen lay second overall on the early stages of the Raven’s Rock before a major off ended his challenge. The Palace man is very much on home soil this weekend and he’ll definitely be in the mix. His navigator Enda reckons my press releases are too long, so we’ll just so nothing about him! Liam leads the class 13 entrants but he will face stiff competition from the likes of Mickey Conlon / Ciaran McPhillips, Patrick McHugh / Pauric O’ Donnell and Alistair & Debbie Fingleton. Graham and Tom Scallan will also be dark horses for overall honours in their Mitsubishi Evo X, while Tomas and Eurig Davies will also be ones to watch in their Fiesta R5.
The action kicks off on Saturday morning with nine stages in total with centralised servicing at Wexford racecourse, followed by a further six stages on Sunday with service once again located at Wexford racecourse. The first car is expected back at the Riverbank House Hotel on Sunday evening at half four and we’ll then find out who has added their name to the list that includes the likes of Billy Coleman, Frank Meagher, Austin McHale and Eamon Boland as winners of the Wexford Stages rally. As with every rally, it cannot be run with vast amounts of manpower and Wexford is no exception. For anyone who is willing to help the club with marshalling over the weekend, please contact chief marshal Sean Sammon on 087 4372757.