John Mulholland Motors @UlsterRally 2017 Preview
The battle to become the Irish Tarmac Champion for 2017 has become a two horse race as the John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally rapidly approaches. The penultimate round of the Clonakilty Blackpudding sponsored series sees championship leader Sam Moffett & second placed Alastair Fisher set for a titanic battle for supremacy. With neither Josh Moffett of Robert Barrable starting the Ulster Rally it seems almost certain that the title will go to either Moffett or Fisher barring a complete collapse from either on the final two rounds. Joe McGonigle in fourth place would need a couple of maximum scores on the final rounds and for his rivals not to score at all in order to take the title. However slight McGonigles chances might be, along with the registered Jonny Greer and Stephen Wright, this trio could take valuable points from either of the two frontrunners if they hit trouble so there could still be some twists and turns before the championship is decided. Fisher had an excellent run to second place on the event last year while Sam was forced out with damaged suspension. This year has seen the pair swap maximum points on most rounds although Fishers current deficit was caused when he was forced into Rally 2 on the Rally of the Lakes after an accident and was unable to score any meaningful points.
William Mavitty and Gavin Kelly are the frontrunners in Group N and are tied at the top of ITRC2 with Kelly making up a lot of ground on the last couple of rounds. The Ulster Rally could be seen as a home rally for both drivers as they come from Fermanagh and Donegal respectively and it will be interesting to see which way the pendulum swings after this round. With third placed Jer O’Donovan not competing on the Ulster Rally it looks like a two horse race for the ITRC2 title as well. ITRC3 still has some way to go though, as joint leader Andrew Burke is not doing the event in his Citroen DS3 but William Creighton, James Wilson and Marty Gallagher will all be present and looking for points. There are only eight points separating the top four drivers so it promises to be a fantastic battle on the Ulster Rally.
The Modified Championship is still being led by Kevin Eves whose lead was cut in Donegal after his accident. This will be his first event since then and he will look to protect his lead as three of his rivals are within range. Eugene Meegan is currently second overall just 6.5 points behind, but with third and fourth placed Vivian Hamill and John Devlin also entered and both performing consistently well all year there could be other twists in the tale by the end of the event.
The Historic Championship is being led by Barry Jones who faltered at the start of the year with mechanical problems but once these were resolved he was the quickest driver in the category with only second placed Ernie Graham able to challenge on a consistent basis. Graham took the top points in Donegal to close the gap to 12 points while Keith McIvor in third place is in home territory on this event and will provide a stiff challenge to the front two. McIvor is only 16 points off the lead and with the Manx and Cork 20 to follow a good result for him could make the remainder of the season very interesting. Shawn Rayner is back in fourth place and quite a bit away from the leaders in terms of points but is getting quicker with each passing round and can’t be discounted either. Stanley Orr, Niall Creighton, Desi Nutt and Philip McKibbin are other drivers who will be chasing points in the category over the weekend.
The Junior Championship is down to two drivers in contention with Jenna McCann still holding a six point lead over Justin Ryan with two rounds to go. The margin of error is very tight as these are the only two registered drivers doing the event so if either driver were to hit problems it could be decisive in the championship. Jenna has scored maximum points on two rounds to date while last year’s runner up Justin will need to be at his best to avoid his rival pulling too far ahead going into the final round as dropped scores will come into play.
The event starts in the Guildhall Square in Derry on Friday 18th August at 1pm and six stages will take place on the opening day before the cars head to Parc Ferme at 9m. The second day has 8 stages with the opening stage beginning at the early hour of 7:43am. The first car is due at the finish ramp at 17:45 at Ebringon Square in Derry.