Evans Charges to Victory in Galway to take early ITRC Lead!
Welsh crew Meirion Evans & Jonathan Jackson (VW Polo) were the winners of the Corrib Oil Galway International Rally for 2023 after a superb performance on the final day saw them overtake Josh and Sam Moffett when both the siblings made a rare mistake on the Black Road dropping them to second and third respectively. For Josh and his co-driver Andy Hayes, it was still a strong performance in their older model Hyundai i20 (below), while brother Sam making a return to international rallying with Keith Moriarty on the notes will also be happy with the debut of the new Hyundai i20 Rally 2 car. The pace was hot and relentless over the weekend with some fantastic competition.
Jonny Greer / Niall Burns (Citroen C3), Callum Devine / Noel O’Sullivan (VE Polo) and Patrick O’Brien / Stephen O’Brien (Skoda Fabia) completed the top six places. Amongst the retirements were Desi Henry with mechanical issues and Cathan McCourt went off the road. Mark Alcorn & John O’Donnell were top modified crew finishing tenth overall in their Escort Mk2 after a brilliant run. Another Meirion Evans with Dale Furniss co-driving won the Historic category in a Ford Escort with the Junior win going to Jack McKenna & Damien Doherty in a Honda Civic.
Unseasonably mild weather greeted the crews at Coldwood for the start of the opening stage, but the action was anything but mild as several crews laid down markers on the 7km test. The top five were separated by less than four seconds with Sam Moffett the surprise leader. 2022 Galway winner and Tarmac Champion, Josh Moffett was only fifth fastest, but he didn’t take long to rectify this with a stunning time to move into the lead. Evans was in second just ahead of Robert Barrable making a return to Galway for the first time in a number of years. Cathan McCourt was in fourth place with Sam Moffett dropping back to fifth after the Skehanagh stage. Mark Alcorn led the modified class from Kevin Eves and Brian Lavelle, but Marty Toners rally ended early on the first stage when his BMW hit a chicane. The last stage before service, Eden Hill, was cancelled and the crews made their way to Loughrea mart with the top ten separated by only fifteen seconds.
The dry weather gave way to misting rain which got heavy for a time soon after the second loop began leaving most crews stranded on the wrong tyres. The loop saw the lead change hands three times with Josh, then Sam and finally Evans moving into the lead at second service, but that only tells part of what was a compelling battle right down through the top ten. Josh survived an overshoot to hold onto third place, Declan Boyle was forced out when his VW Polo had gearbox issues, and Garry Jennings had survived a scare with a broken wire in the electrical system early on and were now setting strong times. Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan were strangely off the pace, not helped by fuel pressure problems and were in the latter half of the top ten. Stage six at Eden Hill provided some excitement for spectators at one particular junction with Desi Henry, Patrick O’Brien, David Guest, and Mark Alcorn amongst the visitors to a field, all survived with a little time loss.
Josh put the hammer down on the final three stages of the day to move into the lead despite clouting a bank and damaging the rear bumper. Robert Barrables fine fifth place disappeared with a small engine fire putting him out of the running. McCourt had an excellent finish to the day to lie in second place overnight, ahead of Sam Moffett and Evans. Jennings was going extremely well in fifth place in his older model Fiesta and Jonny Greer was holding sixth place after spending the day testing out settings in his brand new Citroen.
Mark Alcorn led the modified section of the rally and twelfth overall after first days action which also included a few lurid moments. Two more of his big rivals had been forced to retire, Gary Kiernan and Kevin Eves, both with mechanical problems. Conor Murphy held second place with Jason Black in third, the Armagh driver still getting used to the increase in power to 2.4l this year in the little Starlet. Meirion Evans and Dale Furniss were highest placed Historic crew overnight, holding a 31 second lead over Ray Breen & Damien Morrissey’s Subaru Legacy. Duncan Williams & Guy Weaver were in third place only 11 seconds behind Breen.
Top 6 Overall After Day 1
1 – Josh Moffett & Andy Hayes Hyundai i20 0:50:33.9
2 – Cathan McCourt & Liam Moynihan Citroen C3 0:50.41.7
3 – Sam Moffett & Keith Moriarty Hyundai i20 0:50:53.2
4 – Meirion Evans & Jonathan Jackson VW Polo 0:50:53.8
5 – Garry Jennings & Arthur Kierans Ford Fiesta 0:51:17.0
6 – Jonny Greer & Niall Burns Citroen C3 0:51:25.3
The second days action was centred closer to Loughrea with two stages, Black Road & Ballydoogan each being run three times. Bitterly cold overnight weather had left some sheltered areas covered with ice on the Black Road and the first run was cancelled. Cathan McCourt had a fine run the opening day to lie second overnight, but within one kilometre of the start of Ballydoogan he was out having clipped a wall during a sequence of sweeping bends. Evans took fastest time to cut the gap to the leader to less than fifteen seconds. While Barrable out in Rally 2 was second fastest and showing what might have been after his engine fire of the previous day.
The Black Road was free of ice by the time the second run was due and it was on this test that the event took a decisive turn. Josh Moffett had clipped a chicane and also spun close to the end and lost almost twenty seconds to Evans. Sam Moffett was in similar bother having been caught out in the same tricky section as his brother and hit a wall also losing twenty seconds in the process. Like the 2022 event, the Black Road brought out the best in Evans and he was now in the lead, albeit a small one. Callum Devine was going much better on the second day and while he was too far off to challenge for the lead, he was getting quicker and gaining confidence. Greer was also going well and battling with Devine & Jennings for fourth despite having a scare on the Black Road. Patrick O’Brien and Gareth MacHale were having a tussle for seventh and setting some seriously impressive times. Desi Henry wasn’t happy with the Fiesta despite climbing into the top ten and he would eventually retire at the final service.
The second Ballydoogan stage saw Evans edge into an eight second lead, as Moffett had another time consuming overshoot, with Greer the other main mover into fourth place. Mark Alcorn still led the modified section with over a minute to spare from Jason Black, the pair holding twelfth and thirteenth place respectively, with Conor Murphy one place further back from Black and putting pressure on. The final pair of stages saw Evans hold his nerve and carry his form from the end of last year over to win the 2023 Corrib Oil Galway International Rally. Josh & Sam Moffett took second and third places respectively while Greer held off a charge from Devine to take fourth overall. Patrick O’Brien took an excellent sixth place, which included fastest overall on the last stage. Garry Jennings had to settle for seventh place ahead of David Kelly was very pleased with his new Citroen C3, edging out Gareth MacHale on the last stage. David Guest suffered a heart-breaking late retirement with a sensor issue within sight of the finish line while holding tenth overall.
This left the eventual modified winners Mark Alcorn and John O’Donnell into tenth place after a strong performance in their Escort. Jason Black & Galway co-driver Karl Egan took eleventh overall, holding off Conor Murphy and Sean Collins in an Escort who were just twelve seconds further back. Meirion Evans & Dale Furniss won the Historic section, from Ray Breen and Duncan Williams in second and third respectively. The Junior Rally was won by Jack McKenna & Damien Doherty after a tight battle with local crew Jason Gorham & Aron Connaire. Robbie O’Hanlon & Oisin Joyce were third and Seamus Browne / Damien Sheridan were the final finishers in fourth, all crews in Honda Civics.
Top 10 Overall
1 – Meirion Evans & Jonathan Jackson VW Polo 1:35:41.9
2 – Josh Moffett & Andy Hayes Hyundai i20 1:35:54.6
3 – Sam Moffett & Keith Moriarty Hyundai i20 1:36:23.9
4 – Jonathan Greer & Niall Burns Citroen C3 1:36:54.0
5 – Callum Devine & Noel O’Sullivan VW Polo 1:36:55.5
6 – Patrick O’Brien & Stephen O’Brien Skoda Fabia 1:37:06.1
7 – Garry Jennings & Arthur Kierans Ford Fiesta 1:37:16.8
8 – David Kelly & Dean O’Sullivan Citroen C3 1:38:13.6
9 – Gareth MacHale & Brian Murphy VW Polo 1:38:55.8
10 – Mark Alcorn & John O’Donnell Ford Escort Mk2 1:40:28.3
Top 3 Modified
1 – Mark Alcorn & John O’Donnell Ford Escort Mk2 1:40:28.3
2 – Jason Black & Karl Egan Toyota Starlet 1:41:35.3
3 – Conor Murphy & Sean Collins Ford Escort Mk2 1:41:47.4
Top 3 Historic
1 – Meirion Evans & Dale Furniss Ford Escort RS1800 1:47:29.5
2 – Ray Breen & Damien Morrissey Subaru Legacy 1:48:00.8
3 – Duncan Williams & Guy Weaver Ford Escort RS1800 1:49:23.6
Top 3 Junior
1 – Jack McKenna & Damien Doherty Honda Civic 0:50:59.5
2 – Jason Gorham & Aron Connaire Honda Civic 0:51:20.0
3 – Robbie O’Hanlon & Oisin Joyce Honda Civic 0:54:16.4
Top 3 Galway
1 – Pat Kelly & Jonathan Kelly Ford Fiesta 1:48:56.7
2 – David Quigley & Adrian Comer Honda Civic 1:49:02.3
3 – Shay Laheen & Kerrill Dempsey Ford Escort Mk2 1:49:51.9
Eugene Dalton of Corrib Oil, title sponsor of the event said “Corrib Oil were delighted with the organisation of the Galway Rally all throughout the weekend. It is highly impressive that an event of this scale and complexity is managed by volunteers and we salute Gary Leonard as clerk of the course and Joe Donoghue, Eleanor O’ Boyle and the entire organising committee for the great success that is Galway Rally 2023. Motorsport Ireland and the local economy are huge beneficiaries of this great work”.
Gary Leonard, Clerk of the Course said “We would like to thank all of those who came and helped out over the weekend and your contribution was very much appreciated. Corrib Oil are an excellent title sponsor and the Connacht Hotel is a superb headquarters for an event as prestigious as the Galway International Rally”.
Images from Ronan Hederman