The 2017 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship got underway with an exciting opening round on the Carrick on Suir Motor Club’s Willie Loughman Memorial Forest Rally. Just 0.6 of a second separated the winner Josh Moffett and Stephen Thornton, from brother Sam Moffett and James Fulton, with Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin making it a R5 Ford Fiesta 1-2-3 a further twenty-one seconds behind.
Six special stages including a punishing twenty-two kilometre forest test (that they will tackle twice) awaited the eager crews who were joined at the last minute by Desi Henry in his R5 Fabia, fresh from the snow halted Cambrian Rally in Wales the previous day. It was however Sam Moffett who came into first service after two tests in the lead, with Marty McCormack in his R5 Fabia in 2nd place and Josh Moffett just behind in 3rd. Keith Cronin was next up on a day of learning with the new R5 Fiesta, whilst Desi Henry in fourth was playing with the set-up of his Skoda, something that he would get right towards the end of the day. By second service Josh was in second place just five seconds behind brother Sam, but the twenty-two kilometre test was to be repeated and on stage five the current Billy Coleman Award winner Josh drove a blinder to take a six second lead, with Sam feeling he’d lost his rhythm in the stage. The Monaghan pair were really at it and Sam responded on the final but shortened eleven kilometre stage, which unfortunately for him wasn’t enough and they lost out by just 0.6 of a second!
Former British Rally Champion-Keith Cronin from Bantry was happy with third on his R5 Fiesta debut, whilst reigning Valvoline champion – Desi Henry recovered from a stage five puncture and stormed through the final stage to take fourth from Marty McCormack in his similar R5 Skoda Fabia. Adrian Hetherington celebrated his birthday in style picking up two cakes along the way and sixth place in the Corolla WRC! Tipperary’s Pat O’Connell was seventh and first of the Evo’s home, well ahead of Jonny Leonard who had some niggling problems during the day including an oil leak and loss of brakes, whilst the ever consistent Ger Lucey was ninth despite a spin on stage four. Martin Cairns in his Fiesta WRC completed a four wheel drive top ten, just ahead of Liam Regan’s unique 4×4 Peugeot 206. It wasn’t so good for Niall McCullagh who had been ninth in his Impreza WRC retiring after stage four, and Brendan Cumiskey dropped out of the top ten with issues on the long stage. Scottish visitor Shaun Sinclair was another retirement in his S14 WRC Impreza after power steering issues after a heavy landing
In Group N Jordan Hone had been leading the class after the 2nd stage on his debut in his hired Evo 9, but on stage 3 they had transmission problems which side-lined them, and eventually it was Paul Britton who took the honours in fifteenth overall with his Subaru Impreza. Niall Devine also Subaru equipped was a close second in the category ahead of Conor McCourt who gave up a ski holiday to compete in his Mitsubishi!
The Valvoline two-wheel drive battle started off an epic race, with Comber’s David Crossen in the MK2 Escort holding a narrow one second lead over last year’s champion Shane McGirr at first service. Shane’s challenge was sadly soon over with a broken rear differential on stage three, and John Gordon took up the challenge, moving into a 0.1 second lead after stage four as David Crossen was slowed catching up with a slower car. On the next test John Gordon lost four minutes as he stopped to make a temporary repair to his MK2 Escort, and Mickey Conlon took second, after suffering a time consuming puncture on stage two. A distant third in the two wheel drive race was Damien McGuaran in the BMW 320. It was a great day for David Crossen however, with no mistakes and with co-driver Damien Fleming they took an important early points haul by being top 2WD home.
Derek Mackeral, his Nova now red took the lead initially in the Valvoline Junior section, but he retired on stage four leaving the race between 2016 championship class winner- Stephen Dickson in his R2 Fiesta and Shane Kenneally learning front wheel drive in their new Honda Civic. Another new face coming into the championship this year is Johnnie Mulholland in the Hyundai i20. They worked their way steadily up the leaderboard from 6th to finish 3rd in the juniors section and mentioned that they learned a lot about the car over the course of the rally and are already looking forward to the next round of the series in April. Indeed it was Kenneally who took victory as the Junior’s pursue that coveted Billy Coleman Award nomination at the end of the season.
History was made as the new M. O’Brien Plant Hire Junior 1000 class for 16-18 year olds, made its debut on the Carrick On Suir Forest event. Local lad Alex Byrne, part of the Carrick on Suir Motor Club Youth Academy programme in a Suirway Group backed Peugeot 107 would take the runner up spot, despite a very slight excursion into a ditch on stage four. Jason Murphy in another C-Sport run Junior 1000 car and sponsored by Westyre took the honours in this first J1000 jaunt. With a fabulous prize of a drive in an R2 car on a 2018 Irish Forest Rally round, entry vouchers for the top three on each round: €200 euro to first place, €125 euro to 2nd place and €75 euro to third place and Ears Motorsport putting up tyres as prizes it’s all to go for, and interest is building as the series heads for its second round in April.
Once again we would like to give special thanks to all our sponsors – Valvoline, Andrew Fanning Motor Factors, M. O’Brien Plant Hire, Suirway Group Forklifts & Farm Machinery, Jelf Motorsport Insurance, Exact Signs & Graphics, Pottinger Machinery, Ears Motorsport / Kumho Tyres, Colton Pump & Heating Services, Coillte, Concept Fire Services Ltd, Gordon Automotive Services, Barron Pix & SVS Incar Cameras.
2017 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship-Round 1 Results
1 Josh Moffett/Stephen Thornton Ford Fiesta R5 42:48.5
2 Sam Moffett/James Fulton Ford Fiesta +0:00.6
3 Keith Cronin/Mike Galvin Ford Fiesta R5 +0:21.7
4 Desi Henry/Liam Moynihan Skoda Fabia R5 +0:33.3
5 Martin McCormack/David Moynihan Skoda Fabia R5 +0:37.4
6 Adrian Hetherington/Gary Nolan Toyota Corolla WRC +1:32.0
7 Pat O’Connell/Mark Wiley Mitsubishi Evo +2:56.6
8 Jonny Leonard/Niall Burns Mitsubishi Evo +4:28.2
9 Ger Lucey/JJ Cremin Mitsubishi Evo +4:47.2
10 Martin Cairns/Anthony Nestor Ford Fiesta WRC +4:50.9
2017 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship-Provisional Points After Round 1
1 Josh Moffett 21 pts
2 Sam Moffett 19
3 Desi Henry 18
4 Marty McCormack 17
5 Adrian Hetherington 16
6 Pat O’Connell 15
7 Jonny Leonard 14
8 Ger Lucey 13
9 Martin Cairns 12
10 Liam Regan 11
2017 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship-Rounds
Round 1 – 12th February- Carrick on Suir Forest Rally
Round 2 – 8th April– Moonraker Forest Rally
Round 3 – 13th May– Donegal Forest Rally
Round 4 – 30th July-Jim Walsh Cork Forest Rally
Round 5 – 2nd September-Enniskillen Lakeland Stages Rally
Round 6 – 14th October-Rathfriland MC Down Forest Rally
Images from www.barronpix.com