When Alastair Fisher crashed out of the Cork “20” early on Saturday morning, it looked like the highly anticipated title decider would become a routine start to finish win for Keith Cronin. However an attack from Sam Moffett on Saturday afternoon and a string of fastest times by his brother Josh on the Sunday loop, combined with late drama for Cronin saw the rally and the championship come down to the final stage.
It was Cronin who got first blood in the rally by taking the first stage just 0.5 seconds ahead of Alastair Fisher. Roy White was just over two seconds further behind in his Fiesta WRC, with Jonathan Greer, Sam Moffett and Josh Moffett rounding out the top six.
On the second stage, Fisher took the lead by 4.8 seconds on Cronin. Roy White was still 3rd and Jonny Greer fell behind the Moffett brothers but still less than a second separated the three young drivers. All drivers were saying that the stage was very tricky and muddy in places, which meant it was more about getting through the stage than getting through fast.
Central service was in Fermoy after two stages and on the second pass through the first stage, Cronin cut Fishers lead down to 0.3 of a second. Roy White, who was out this weekend with the intention of learning setups in his car, fell further behind the leading two after stalling at the start of the stage. Sam Moffett complained at service that his car was too soft for the stages. Josh Moffett still trailed his brother but was still within a second of him.
All drivers were given a nominal time through SS4 after first car on the road Alastair Fisher slid his Modern Tyre Service Fiesta R5 off on a mucky section of the stage. The crew were ok but the car was off and stayed off. The Championship leader was out, and this left Cronin in control, 25 seconds ahead of Sam Moffett and with the Championship in his sights.
On SS5, Sam Moffett took 11 seconds out of Keith Cronin to jump to second overall and less than 14 seconds behind first spot. Roy White had more trouble getting off the line on this stage, and Josh Moffett had a big moment in his R5 Fiesta when he landed hard over a bump throwing the car sideways. He and co-driver Jason McKenna got away without losing any speed.
The scare didn’t seem to have any effect on Josh’s nerve as he went joint fastest with Roy White on the next stage. Sam Moffett was just behind and reduced Cronin’s lead further to less than 10 seconds. At service Cronin said he had probably went too easy on that loop but was happy with the car and wasn’t panicked as he could settle for 3rd if Sam took the lead and still finish with the Championship win.
After the final two stages of the day, Sam Moffett had reduced Cronin’s lead to 8.5 seconds, while Roy White and James O’Brien were a further 4.8 back. A fastest time on Stage 8 put Josh Moffett just a single second behind White’s WRC Fiesta. Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick were in 5th and said he will see how the first stage of the morning go to decide if he will try to make up positions or just cement his place ahead of Stephen Wright. Wright said he had been sluggish over the first stages and that was the reason he was back. Kevin Kelleher was 7th trying to get the most out of his McKinstry Impreza. Dundalk’s Brendan Cumiskey finished the day 9th overall, still getting used to his Fiesta, he was lucky to still be on the leader board at all after detouring into a field late on in the day, but escaped without any damage.
The stages on Sunday were fast and flowing, and in the dewy morning sun looked perfect for the competing cars. On the opening stage, Josh Moffett took nine seconds off rally leader Cronin to move to second overall. Roy White and Sam both moved down a spot but took time off Cronin as well meaning that only 6.2 seconds separated the top four cars. Roy White moved back to second with a fastest time on Stage 10 but on Stage 11, Josh Moffett took another fastest time and led the rally by 3.3 seconds as they came back into service.
Stage 12 saw the wheels almost come off Cronin’s Championship both literally and figuratively. A slow puncture midway through the stage meant he had to drive for many miles on a flat wheel and lose over half a minute by stage end. All weekend, Cronin had spoken about how he only needed to take 3rd place ITRC points to win the title, and after leading most of the event, he found himself only 13.5 seconds ahead of 4th placed registered driver Jonny Greer with only two stages remaining.
Roy White went fastest on the penultimate stage of the rally, putting him only 3.5 seconds behind Josh. Sam Moffett was 0.1 slower than White, leaving 4.5 seconds between the top three cars in the rally. Cronin took 3 seconds on Greer to widen the all-important gap and put himself one stage away from the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship title.
— Aaron Mc Elroy (@ItsAaronMcElroy) October 2, 2016
In a rally where the narrowest of margins separated drivers all weekend, Josh Moffett won the 2016 Cork “20” Rally only 4.6 seconds ahead of his older brother Sam. Back in Fermoy Josh was ecstatic with his 1st Irish International win, and relieved after a moment on the final stage almost put his Combilift Fiesta off and out of the rally. Winning co-driver Jason McKenna commended Josh on his driving and said it was surreal to win an International and have his name on the same trophy as Sebastian Loeb and Daniel Elena. Sam made a last gasp push but as he said himself, if he had been faster out of the blocks in the morning he could have been closer in the end.
National Rally Champion Roy White finished 3rd Overall in his WRC Fiesta. White said he enjoyed the weekend and the stages, and that he gained a lot in setups which was his main objective this weekend.
But it was all smiles as Keith Cronin pulled his Citroen DS3 in off the final stage. The Corkman – with Mikie Galvin on the notes – said he was relieved after the drama earlier and the reality of winning hadn’t sunk in. Talking about the puncture at the start of the final loop he said he was driving to avoid all cuts and danger so wasn’t sure how it happened, but glad it wasn’t any more serious than it was.
— Irish Tarmac C'ship (@IrishTarmacTROA) October 2, 2016
Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick were 5th in their DGM DS3. Stephen Wright and Arthur Keirans took 7th. Kevin Kelleher, Brendan Cumiskey and Joe Connolly rounded out the top 10.
Callum Devine took another class win in his R2 Opel Adam, and secured the overall R2 Championship. The young Derry driver had Marty Gallagher keeping him honest all weekend and said he was over the moon with how it all finished up.
— Callum Devine (@CallumDevine27) October 2, 2016
In the National Rally Brian Brogan and Damien McGettigan took the win in their MKII Escort from Tommy Doyle and Liam Moynihan in the popping Renault Clio. Doyle had been leading on Saturday but knew he had his work cut out when the more powerful cars got onto the faster stages. Calum Duffy had Emmet Sherry on the notes and took 3rd in their Millington powered Skoda S2500.
Ray Cunningham took the spoils in Historics in his Mk2 Escort. Duncan Williams was second in a similar car, while Brendan McAree took 3rd in his Porsche 911.
Eric Calnan and Aileen Kelly won the Junior Category in their Peugeot 106. Fergus Hurley and Eric Deane were only 1.6 seconds behind in their MK2 Escort. Kevin and Stephen Horgan rounded off the top 3 in a Honda Civic.