Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes clinched a hard-fought victory on the West Cork Rally, their second win in the 2022 Acesigns Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
The Hyundai crew finished 23.3 seconds ahead of Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson. West Cork is the Welshmen’s fourth runner-up finish in a row. Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble completed West Cork’s podium, a further 18 seconds behind their Volkswagen team-mates.
“Such a day, such a weekend,” said a joyous Moffett after the final stage. “Unbelievable. It was a relief to come to the end of that last stage, we had a nice enough run through it. We are on a good roll now, I don’t know how long we can keep it up for but hopefully we can. Everything is working well at the minute, the car and the team.”
Moffett started Sunday’s six stages 4.4 seconds behind West Cork’s overnight leader Callum Devine. The pair of championship contenders could barely be separated across Saturday’s eight stages.
Moffett nipped ahead of Devine on Stage 6 but a set-up change for the latter helped him retake the lead over the final two stages of day one.
Devine extended that lead on Sunday’s opening stage, the iconic coastal stage Ring, but the Derry driver knew his lead would soon come under threat as the soft tyres he selected for his Ford Fiesta Rally2 car were not holding up on the long, demanding stages.
Devine was right, his lead vanished over West Cork’s next two 19-kilometre stages and heading into Sunday’s middle service he was 7.3 seconds behind Moffett.
Moffett’s first loop of stages on Sunday didn’t pass without his own issues. He struggled to get to grips with his car on the different style of stages. Clogagh, the middle stage of the loop, was the worst for the Monaghan driver. His challenging run through Stage 10 was topped off with a near rally-ending moment in dust but he survived to tell the tale.
Evans and Jonny Greer were the big winners from Stage 10. Evans’ fastest time had him just eight seconds behind Moffett and Devine who were both shaken by the morning’s events. A poor time on the succeeding Ballinascarthy test spoiled Evans’ hard work as he dropped over 14 seconds to Moffett who claimed a dominant stage win.
Fisher was quickest out of the blocks on Ring but his charge back the leaderboard was halted by two overshoots and a stall on Clogagh. His dramas let Greer’s Citroen nip into fourth. Cathan McCourt’s run in the top five ended with a roll on Ring. A bitter blow to his recent run of form on tarmac.
With three stages to go, spectators lined Ring eagerly awaiting the presence of Devine’s Rally2 Fiesta knowing he’d be on full attack in a bid to challenge Moffett’s lead. It wasn’t to be, however, as Devine couldn’t complete the short journey from service to Stage 12’s start-line. His Fiesta’s gearbox gave up, leaving them stranded outside Clonakilty.
Moffett’s lead was now insurmountable. Fisher went fastest again over Ring as along with Greer and Evans, he moved up a place courtesy of Devine’s misfortune.
Three seconds separated Evans and Greer ahead of West Cork’s final stage. Greer had looked threatening all day in his Citroen but he was forced to retire on Ballinascarthy after he slid into a bank. His car was barely damaged, but his Citroen’s exhaust was flattened leaving Greer with no power to drive through West Cork’s last stage.
Daniel Cronin and David Guest finished a creditable fourth and fifth after the 220-kilometre rally. Owen Murphy, Cal McCarthy, and Keith Lyons completed the top eight.
James Stafford recorded a 46.2-second modified victory on the West Cork Rally. The Darrian driver was untouchable for most of the rally, winning nine of the 14 stages in modifieds. Rob Duggan was Stafford’s nearest rival after starting the fastest of the two on Saturday morning’s Ardfield test.
But once Stafford got up to speed and claimed the two-wheel-drive lead on Stage 3, Duggan’s focus switched to staying ahead of his Toyota Corolla and Ford Escort rivals.
Kevin Eves was Duggan’s nearest challenger at the end of West Cork’s opening day. Eves had a poor start to the event, his Corolla was mishandling badly courtesy of a new anti-roll bar installed for the event.
Stafford, Duggan, and Eves were joined by Gary Kiernan and Daniel McKenna in the modified’s overnight top five.
Eves’ rally barely got going on Sunday. He retired on Clogagh, Stage 10, when a front spring broke and damaged his Corolla’s exhaust manifold.
With Eves’ out, Kiernan was charging towards Duggan, setting a series of fastest times. A lacklustre drive through West Cork’s penultimate stage cost Duggan 26 seconds to his Escort rival. Kiernan was now only eight seconds behind the Kerryman with one test to go.
Duggan responded, however, setting a final-stage fastest time. Not that it mattered, though. Kiernan joined the ever-growing list of retirements, his Escort succumbing to differential issues on the very last stage.
McKenna was battling to find pace in his fine-tuned Ford. Fourth was his reward for sticking at it through the weekend.
Simon Reid and Sam Moffett completed the two-wheel-drive top five. Moffett took Class 13 honours for the very first time after inheriting the lead when Jason Black retired with fuel issues on Stage 11.
Eamonn Kelly and Conor Mohan bounced back from their retirement in Galway with a dominant victory in West Cork’s front-wheel-drive category.
Kelly’s hugely impressive performance on the high-speed south-coast stages evoked memories of his Father’s winning record in West Cork. Kelly and Mohan finished over seven-and-a-half minutes ahead of Galway class winners Ryan Caldwell and Grace O’Brien.
Kelly’s drive was good enough for an impressive 12th finish in the packed international field.
Caldwell’s rally challenge was undone on the first stage, he rolled after cutting the inside of a corner. The young driver was able to continue but the time loss and confidence knock meant second to Kelly was the best he could hope for come Sunday evening.
James Boland secured third in his similar Rally4 Fiesta while Joe Kelly had to settle for fourth in his Peugeot.
Neil Williams and Anthony O’Sullivan lived up to their number one historic seedings to claim a searing two-minute victory in West Cork’s Historic Rally.
Tommy McDonagh finished second ahead of Denis Cronin in another Ford Escort. Alan Ring completed the top four in his BMW M3.
With crews ahead not registered for the Acesigns Historic Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, Maurice Meskell and Craig MacWilliam aided their season’s hopes with second and third-place points.
Top points scorer in Galway, Jason Farrell, had to battle hard to win the Junior section of the West Cork Rally.
Farrell claimed an early five-second lead on West Cork’s iconic Ring opener. The Kerry pilot extended his lead to 12.8 seconds over Donegal’s Ryan McHugh by the Junior’s halfway point.
McHugh bounced back after service, however, going quickest on Ring and Clogagh to take the lead.
But Farrell managed to pip his Honda Civic rival on the final stage of the rally after trailing him by 0.7 seconds heading into Ballinascarthy.
A fastest-time, 10.8 seconds quicker than any of his rivals, ensured Farrell came out on top and maintained his perfect start to the Acesigns Junior Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
Runner-up in Galway, John Michael Kennelly, has lost ground on his rivals after a non-finish in West Cork. Robbie O’Hanlon finished third to pick up some more championship points.
Full results available HERE