After a break of over three months the Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship roars back into life with the two day CFF Jim Walsh Cork Forest Rally in just over three weeks. Clerk of the Course Paul Casey has devised a two day event that will count as a double round of the championship (Rounds 4 & 5) with points being awarded for each day. The event will consist of six stages on each day, with the first day’s action to the east of Mallow and the second day to the west of Mallow. Five of the stages are classics of the Cork Forest Rally, while one, a 13km test never used by Cork Motor Club before, but well known in Forestry Rallying will be used on the first day.
Speaking of the event which takes place on 28th & 29th July, Paul Casey said “the club have invested a lot of money into getting the grading of the roads right and we want the stages to be in the same condition for the last competitor as the first car on the road. Entries are coming in very strongly at present, with 25% of the entries to date coming from competitors who are either not championship registered or who have not competed on the event before”. Paul advises registered competitors to get their entries in as soon as possible to avoid any potential disappointment such is the interest to date.
The championship is currently being led by Barry McKenna in his Ford Fiesta R5 who took top points on the last round, the Moonraker Forest Rally. He has shown good turn of speed to concern his rivals Josh Moffett & Andrew Purcell in similar cars who are currently in fourth and fifth overall. Both of these drivers have hit problems over the opening three rounds with Moffett losing a wheel on the opening event while Purcell retiring due to mechanical issues on the Moonraker. Stephen McCann who is a relative forestry novice by comparison is second overall in the championship and is making the change from a Fiesta S2000 to a more potent R5 for the second half of the season. Gerard Lucey in third place is Mr. Consistency in forest terms having led the championship for much of last season before coming third overall. The Cork Forest stages will be in home territory for him and will be an opportunity to keep up the title challenge. Rounding off the top six overall is Mickey Conlon who is having an excellent year in his Ford Escort Mk2 and is also leading his class. As always the 2WD category is very competitive with Shane McGirr, John Gordon, Davis Crossen and Adrian Hetherington battling it out, although the latter duo have had very little luck in terms of results so far this season.
The Junior Championship is hard fought with John O’Sullivan currently in the lead and the stages for the Cork Forest Rally will be close to home for him. A series of very quick drivers will be looking to cut the six point gap, and these include Marty Gallagher, Derek Mackarel and James Wilson all of whom have dropped points on one round to date. The pace in this category has been incredible throughout the year with Marty Gallagher, Derek Mackarel and James Wilson all coming close to top ten finishes at different times throughout the season. With the double round in Cork followed by the Lakeland and Bushwacker events in Northern Ireland there is still a lot of driving to be done before this category will be decided.
The M. O’Brien Plant Hire Junior 1000 Championship is being led by Jason Murphy who has won all rounds to date, and looks well on his way to successfully defending the title he won last season. However his rivals are closing the gap somewhat with Peter Beaton from Scotland showing flashes of speed but needing to do it more consistently. Aoife Gahan, like Beaton lost ground on the opening round with a non-finish, but has built up more confidence and speed with each passing round. Rory Byrne didn’t compete on the opening round, so was easing himself in on the second round, but the last round he really put it up to Murphy finishing only 11.6 seconds behind the Mayo driver. With the J1000 championship finishing in Cork the double round means that all four drivers still have a chance of taking the title. However Murphy’s fourteen point advantage should be enough to see him take the title by just getting a finish on the opening day of the Cork event.