2016 was the year of changes in Irish Rallying. R5 and S2000 cars became the premier class in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship at the expense of WRC cars – many of whom turned their attention to the National Championship. As well as that, the rebirth of the British Rally Championship gave Irish drivers another championship to challenge themselves.
It was difficult to narrow down a list to just ten, given how competitive the sport had been all year.
It was another standout year for the Waterford man, managing to secure a works contract with Citroen for 2017 following a successful partial WRC campaign in a private DS3 WRC this year. His ability to step up to the highest ranks of the rallying world and hold his own against the best drivers in the field made him one of the drivers to watch. To add to this, Breen finished 3rd overall in Rally Finland, a result that removed all doubt as to whether or not he had what it takes in the WRC. Away from the World Championship, he made it back to back wins on The Circuit of Ireland with an impressive win against ERC regulars, and a win in Rallye du Condroz in Belgium -where Citroen Racing boss Yves Matton was also competing – ended his year on a high. Every year, things just seem to be getting better and better for Craig.
— Irish Tarmac C'ship (@IrishTarmacTROA) October 2, 2016
2. Keith Cronin.
2016 could have as easily been the year that almost was for Keith Cronin. For every solid points scoring round, he had less fortunate luck following. However, calculated drives throughout the year saw him lift the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship title for the first time. Taking maximum Tarmac points in Galway and West Cork, Cronin had hit the ground running and made a point of his intentions for the coming year. After disappointing rallies in Killarney and the Circuit of Ireland, he produced a brilliant drive on the Donegal to score more maximum championship points having made a very mature drive on the final day of the event finishing just 0.5 seconds behind Manus Kelly in his WRC Impreza. This was the year that Keith Cronin was finally able to prove on Irish stages what he had done in the BRC for many years, that he has the speed to make him one of the fastest men in rallying.
— Carly Telford (@carlytelford1) October 27, 2016
3. Rob Duggan
If there was such thing as a perfect season in motorsport, Kerry’s Rob Duggan would surely have come close. The Billy Coleman winner proved his speed in the BRC Junior category as he won all but two rounds in his Vauxhall Motorsport Junior Rally Team Adam. He was for the most part untouchable throughout the year and he did everything right to wrap up the BRC Junior title in the Ulster Rally. When he wasn’t in the Adam, he was winning in a MKII Escort back in Ireland. 3 Class 11R wins and a Modified category win at the Killarney Historics to prove his is quick in anything.
The recently crowned Billy Coleman Award winner for 2016 Josh Moffett had a busy year of rallying, taking in an event almost every weekend of the year. He had only four retirements during the entire year using a mixture of R5 and WRC specification machinery. When he wasn’t competing in the ITRC or BRC, he was in the Irish forests, or entering into National rounds in his Combilift Rallying Fiesta. He took maximum BRC points on the Circuit of Ireland and 3 maximum scores in the forests in what was a year of very consistent runs. To seal off an impressive year, Josh had an inspired drive on the Cork 20 to fend off his brother Sam as well as Keith Cronin to take his first international victory.
The Derry native provided a dominating display this year in his R2 Opel Adam, fending off the likes of Marty Gallagher and William Creighton in the 2wd category of the ITRC. Strong performances throughout the year and a clean sweep of class wins in the Irish Tarmac series except for the Circuit of Ireland made him the driver everyone was looking out for. He also tried Belgian tarmac at Ypres, where he competed against works Opel drivers before crashing out. He will be the young driver with a target on his back in 2017.
Eric Calnan has been nominated for this year’s Motorsport Ireland Billy Coleman Young Rally Driver Award for his performances in Sept & Oct pic.twitter.com/vAv4yZKJzZ
— Motorsport Ireland (@MotorsportIRL) November 3, 2016
6. Eric Calnan
#AnythingButACivic. There were debates ongoing this year as to whether the R2 International category or the Class 16 Junior cars were the better option for young drivers. There were arguments for both, with the main sticking point being the speed and cost of junior category Honda Civics. Eric Calnan took his Peugeot 106 to the top of the podium on more than one occasion in true underdog fashion against more powerful cars. Calnan’s performance proved that a quick driver is by far more important than a quick car, and he was rewarded with a Billy Coleman nomination in 2016.
— Motorsport Ireland (@MotorsportIRL) November 7, 2016
7. Desi Henry
I wanted to include Desi Henry on this list just to reprint his famous quote from the Scottish Rally when Colin Clark asked him what it felt like to be on the podium. “It’s a privilege to be standing on the same podium as Elfyn Evans. Everyone knows he’s a world rally driver and I’m a builder.”
Thankfully there are more reasons than just his words that justify including him on this list. His merits include three podiums in the British Rally Championship as he gathered speed in his first season in his R5 Fabia. Closer to home he won Irish Forestry Championship, after battling with Josh Moffett throughout the year. With lots of competitive miles under his belt in his Skoda, Henry will be fighting near the front whatever championship he is in.
Declan & Brian Boyle / Clare Stages Rally 2016 pic.twitter.com/H0Cddwpk0l
— Declan Boyle M.S (@BoyleMotorsport) September 19, 2016
8. Declan Boyle
A glance at 2016 results will not look favourable for Declan Boyle, it seemed like he would struggle to make it to final control at all this year. However, he had a change of fortune in the second half of the season and what he achieved when things went his way were impressive. Driving possibly the most modern and advanced WRC car ever to sit on Irish tarmac, Boyle found speed in the National Championship managing some blistering results and dominant performances. Out of five finishes he took five wins in the Triton Showers National Championship. Boyle will be looking to continue his form into 2017 having ended the year with four consecutive wins.
9. Roy White
While many young rally drivers made the move to R5 category cars in 2016. Roy White moved from a modified Rover to a WRC Fiesta. It was a year of hard learning for White who had to find the speed in his new Fiesta and a new style of driving. A tough year of mistakes and overshoots turned into fastest times and wins. He was consistent all year, scoring in all rounds to win the National series. At the Cork 20, while he wasn’t eligible for ITRC points, he proved how far he had come in a single year having taken fastest stage times against the hard pushing Moffett Brothers and Keith Cronin. Roy White in 2016 was proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks. (Sorry Roy!)
Meath’s Gary McNamee was a runner up in this year’s Billy Coleman Award having won the National Junior Rally Championship, having gone one place better than his championship pursuit in 2015. Battling all year with Michael Boyle from Donegal, he took the championship on the final round after hard grafting all year. Like Declan Boyle in the overall standing, Gary took victory on all rounds that he finished. Having used his own Civic for years he is reluctant to move, but he has hinted at trying homologated junior cars in the future.