Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes clinched win number four of their stunning Acesigns Irish Tarmac Rally Championship campaign on the Cork 20 International Rally.
The Hyundai i20 R5 duo was pushed to the limit by Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan after Cork 20’s overnight leaders Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble crashed out on Sunday’s opening stage.
A final day charge from Devine reduced Moffett’s 11.6-second advantage to 3.1 seconds with two stages left of the 15-stage event.
The Derry driver’s fastest time on Stage 12, Chimneyfield, was particularly impressive and halved the gap to Moffett on a single test.
Moffett feared the worst as he admitted he was already wringing the neck of his Hyundai with plenty of close calls along the way. When asked about a rumoured moment on Stage 13, Moffett quickly replied to explain there was more than just one.
Moffett and Devine’s duel followed the early demise of Fisher’s Volkswagen Polo R5 on Stage 10. The Circuit of Ireland winner had held a 16.9-second lead after three stage wins in the wet on Saturday afternoon.
Fisher attacked Sunday’s first Badgers Hill test in a similar vein but his time at the top ended three-quarters of the way into the 20-kilometre stage. His Polo clipped a bank on a deceptive left-hander, damaging its suspension, and putting the ITRC hopefuls out of contention for the third rally in a row.
Meirion Evans grabbed his first fastest time of the rally on Badgers Hill and moved into third less than 25 seconds off the lead. The Welshman was too far back to challenge Moffett and Devine and opted to run used tyres for Cork 20’s last loop of stages.
Devine’s Sunday morning fightback ensured Cork 20’s enthralling storyline kept to its captivating tone right to the end.
The rally started off in a dramatic fashion with Munster’s local favourite Daniel Cronin suffering a double-puncture on Saturday’s first stage. Moffett, Devine, Evans, and Fisher were nip and tuck throughout day one of the Cork 20 Rally with an unexpectedly wet final loop catching them all out on slick tyres at the end of Saturday.
Moffett and Devine put everything on the line over the last two Cork stages and despite Devine’s best efforts he couldn’t match the pace of Moffett. The recently crowned National Rally Champion won both Badgers Hill and Chimneyfield to claim his second Cork 20 victory by 8.4 seconds.
“We had to really push on the last two stages,” admitted Moffett after Cork’s final test. “It is nice to come out on top after the race we have had all weekend. I’m not sure that this has been my hardest win but it is definitely up there.”
David Guest and Andrew Purcell completed Cork 20’s top five with the Ford Fiesta Rally2 and Skoda Fabia R5 drivers enjoying a race of their own on Sunday.
Purcell, who hadn’t competed on asphalt since 2019, set a string of strong times to climb from seventh to fourth on Sunday morning. Enda O’Brien had held fourth but a few scrappy stages dropped him down the pack.
Guest had Purcell in his sights again on Cork’s final loop moving within four seconds of the Skoda with one stage remaining. Purcell pushed hard to defend his position on the last 18-kilometre stage but a spin ruined his hopes of holding off Guest.
Moffett’s fourth ITRC win of the year means he only needs to score seven points on Ulster Rally’s double-points finale to seal his second career Irish Tarmac title.
Fisher’s non-finish in Cork puts him out of the title race with Meirion Evans and Callum Devine realistically needing Moffett to hit trouble on next month’s two-day event to stand a chance of clinching a surprise title.
Casey Jay Coleman stayed out of trouble to seal top spot in Rally4, two minutes ahead of Jason Dickson.
Dickson had moved into the lead on Sunday’s opening stage, ahead of overnight leader Ryan Caldwell, but his Ford Fiesta Rally4 broke two driveshafts before the end of the rally to drop him down to third with one stage to go.
Caldwell also ran into trouble on Sunday with his worse-for-wear Ford Fiesta crabbing through Stage 11 two minutes off the pace. Dickson’s issues put Caldwell in second ahead of Cork 20’s final test.
More drama was to come though with a misfire crippling Caldwell’s engine, costing him a bundle of time and putting him back to third behind Dickson.
With Coleman not registered in ITRC, Dickson’s second-place finish was enough to seal his third maximum points score in a row and take the ITRC 3 fight to Ulster Rally’s decider.
Colin Byrne looked to have Cork 20’s national section wrapped up when nearest challenger Padraig Egan pulled in with gearbox failure on Stage 11. Byrne had inherited the modified lead on Saturday when early leader James Stafford pulled out with collapsed rear suspension on his Darrian.
It gave the local ace a one-minute lead, and a chance to move to the top of ITRC’s modified standings, but he lost it all when his Ford Escort Mk2 slid and got stuck at a baled chicane on the penultimate stage.
The incident handed Irish Tarmac Modified rival Simon Reid and John Murphy top points in Cork and a memorable national victory.
“It is unbelievable,” said Reid. “It wasn’t nice to see Colin off but it is the first time I have won the national section.
“We have had our ups and downs this weekend but we kept trying and in fairness, we had no answer to Colin.”
The result slingshots Reid, who started the rally fifth in ITRC, into the head of the modified standings with only Ulster Rally’s double-points finale left.
After missing Donegal, Neil Williams returned to the Acesigns Irish Tarmac Championship in top form, claiming a start-to-finish victory on the Cork 20. It was a double-points round for the Historic runners with Williams’ 54.6-second overnight lead enough to bag him his first batch of top points.
That feat was repeated on Sunday’s six stages to claim a two-minute victory in a competitive Cork 20 Historic Rally. The result will put the Welshman, who lay fifth in the standings before Cork, in a strong championship position with one round to go.
Luke McCarthy secured strong championship points in second to maintain his championship charge with Adrian Evans completing the podium positions.
Duncan Williams finished fourth and was grateful to make the end after his rivals’ service crews chipped in to replace his Ford Escort RS1800’s clutch on one of Sunday’s short service periods.
Evan McEvoy and Aaron McEvoy won the Junior section, one minute ahead of Gary Healy and Gearoid Moynihan. Anthony O’Driscoll had been second but Healy pipped him to the position by four seconds on Cork 20’s last stage.
The result gives Healy his first maximum points finish as McEvoy isn’t competing in ITRC this year. Healy now sits in the top three championship standings.
Ryan MacHugh dropped to the back of the Junior field with fuel distributor issues but defied the odds to finish the rally and score crucial points that secured the Irish Tarmac Junior Championship with one round still remaining.
Header Image from Roger Dawson