The countdown is on to the start of the forty-sixth running of the Wexford Volkswagen stages rally. Organised by the Wexford motor club and under the stewardship of the event’s new clerk of the course, Niall McCarthy and his team, this year’s event will take place over fifteen special stages with some located in territory never previously covered on the event. The club are delighted to have Wexford Volkswagen back on board as the main sponsor for the event for the second consecutive year. Last year was a great success and both the club and Wexford Volkswagen look forward to building on this, both in 2017 and into the future. The event has bucked the trend of 2017, in a year where clubs have struggled to get enough entries to make events viable, Wexford have received a near capacity entry for their event with almost one hundred and forty crews entering the club’s showcase event.
Leading the crews away for this year’s event will be the 2016 event winners, Steve Wood and Keith Moriarty. Steve and Keith had a fantastic run last year to take victory following a rally long battle. Their victorious Subaru Impresa S10 WRC has now been sold, so we will have to wait and see what machine they will have at their disposal to defend their title on this year’s event. One thing is for sure, they will have a massive fight on their hands to retain their title as at number two is the Subaru Impreza S12B WRC of Welshman Melvyn Evans and Sean Mullally. Melvyn has been a regular visitor to Ireland over the years, but it has been ten years since we last seen him in Wexford. Melvyn is a former Irish National rally championship winner and with Sean Mullally on the notes, they are likely to be Wood’s chief rivals over the two-day event.
At number three and the leading two-wheel drive crew is Cavan’s Gary Kiernan with Donegal’s Ryan Moore on the notes. Gary and Ryan lead the 2016 event before an unfortunate off ended their event on Sunday afternoon. Although they have had a trying 2017, they recently lifted the “King of the Mk2” title on the Galway Summer rally so they will arrive in Wexford full of confidence. They showed last year they have the pace to challenge Wood, and they are definite contenders for overall victory this year once again. At four are this year’s dark horses, Ian Barrett and Eoin O’ Flaherty. Last year, Ian debuted his 2.5 litre Darrian T90 GTR in Wexford and this year he debuts another new car, his fantastic Ford Fiesta WRC. A frustrating 12 months have seen fantastic pace been blighted by mechanical problems with the Darrian and this has seen a switch to WRC power for the “Joule” backed men. There is no doubting they are also contenders on this year’s event, with the nimble Fiesta possibly the ideal car for Sunday’s fast but tricky stages in particular.
Seeded at five is another Fiesta, this time an S2000 version are Stephen McCann and Damien Fleming. Stephen has had some excellent runs in his new for 2017 motor, and he’ll be hoping for a good run in Wexford where he has shown excellent pace before, albeit with very little look. Rounding out the top six is this year’s reigning “Mk2 Challenge” winner David Condell. David was a front runner on last year’s event before and accident forced retirement. It was David’s long held ambition to win the renowned Mk2 Challenge trophy, so he will surely be full of confidence as he challenges Kiernan for top two-wheel drive. Pauric Duffy, partnered by Kevin Glynn are at seven in another Fiesta, this the latest R5 version. Pauric has had some fantastic runs this year, most notably a fine sixth overall on the Donegal International rally. He will be hoping for another good run in Wexford and once again his car should suit the Wexford stages. Lisburn’s Wesley Patterson and Johnny Baird are at eight in the third of the 2.5 Millington engine Escorts. Wesley has not had much luck in recent times, but it should not be forgotten that the blue Mk2 was second overall here in 2015 and third in 2014. Wesley is never one to be discounted.
At nine is the 2016 young driver of the year nominee, Gary McNamee with Brian Brady in the co-driver’s seat. Gary has had some scintillating runs this year, must notably in Laois where he was up amongst the leaders in the opening stages. The class 11F Civic seems to be a match for many of the leading Escorts in Gary’s hands and it will be interesting to see how close he can get to Gary Kiernan over the Wexford stages. Rounding out the top 10 is Donegal crew Patrick McHugh and Pauric O’ Donnell. Patrick has become a regular visitor to Wexford and this year he returns in the hotly contested class 14. Patrick’s times on the national section of the Donegal International in June were up with the leading crews, so he will be one to watch this weekend also.
Just outside the top ten, the plethora of stunning modified machines continues. Crowd favourites Liam Howlett and John McGrath make their class 14 debut on home soil this weekend in the Ryan Loughran hired Escort. Liam has been out of action since his big off in Galway this year, so expect plenty of lock-to-lock as he beds himself back in over the opening stages! John Bonnar is another Donegal man to make the long trip and he’s another locked into this fascinating class 14 battle along with Tommy Doyle / Liam Moynihan, Richie Moore / Brian Halligan, Wayne Evans / John Smithwick and Kyle McGettigan / Dale McGettigan. John Gordon and Thomas Wedlock are the first class 13 crew while the Ford Fiesta R5 of Joe Connolly / Richard Connelly and the Proton S2000 of Andrew Fanning / Derek Gibbs round out the top 20 of what can only be described as one of the best line-ups in Wexford in recent years.
The action gets underway on Saturday morning when the cars leave the Riverbank House Hotel to tackle six special stages with service located at Wexford race course before the cars return to the Riverbank House Hotel for the overnight halt. On Sunday, the crews tackle a further nine special stages with service once again located at Wexford racecourse, before the remaining crews return to the finish ramp outside the Riverbank Hotel at approximately 5p.m. As always, help is always greatly appreciated and if anyone wishes to marshal, they can get in touch with Sean Sammon on 087-4185671.
Keep up-to-date all weekend on http://www.wexfordmotorclub.ie