Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes were forced to pull out all the stops as they defended their West Cork International Rally crown to win the second round of the 2023 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
After a few slip-ups on the Galway International Rally, Moffett was back at his breathtaking best aboard his trusty Hyundai i20 R5. A brave tyre call on Saturday brought him to the front of a hot-paced West Cork pack and he finished day one with an 18.6-second lead over Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson.
But it was Robert Barrable and Gordon Noble, who finished Saturday in fourth, who defied their 36.1-second deficit to challenge Moffett for victory in the closing stages of the 2023 West Cork Rally.
Tyres were the talking point in Sunday morning’s Clonakilty Parc Ferme as rain lingered overhead. Josh Moffett and Robert Barrable both opted for Michelin’s wet tyres for the intense loop of Shanaway, Sam’s Cross, and Ardfield tests that totalled over 50 stage kilometres.
Their decision was the right one as the rain plummeted from the skies around Clonakilty.
Meirion Evans and Callum Devine’s hopes of threatening Moffett in front disappeared as they struggled for grip on the wrong tyre compound.
Evans was left to rue his tyre choice for the second time in two days. His early lead on Saturday vanished when Josh Moffett’s hard tyre gamble paid off to lead after a brace of fastest times on stages three and four.
Despite his two nearest rivals drifting away, Moffett’s claim on his second West Cork victory looked to be shifting into the hands of Robert Barrable.
In wickedly wet weather, Barrable kept the foot down to secure a hat-trick of stage wins on Shanaway, Sam’s Cross, and Ardfield. His Citroen C3 Rally2 stopped the clocks on Shanaway an incredible 10.5 seconds faster than Moffett.
Barrable repeated the feat on stage ten, Sam’s Cross, cutting Moffett’s lead by a further 11.3 seconds and moving into second ahead of Evans. Barrable later described his fastest times as feeling comfortable. He was about the only one enjoying the treacherously wet roads but there was no denying Barrable had found an unlikely sweet spot amid all the madness.
Meanwhile, Josh Moffett felt out of sorts. He reset himself for Sunday morning’s final test before service, Ardfield’s 19-kilometre coastal classic. The Hyundai i20 R5 driver was happier with his performance on West Cork’s 11th stage but still Barrable bargained him for four more seconds.
The gap was ten seconds with one more loop of three stages remaining.
As the rain continued to fall around Clonakilty, all eyes were on an epic showdown between Josh Moffett and Robert Barrable. They shared a stage win apiece over the last runs of Shanaway and Sam’s Cross to leave Moffett with a 6.5-second margin ahead of a frighteningly foggy Ardfield.
Barrable was fastest through the famous stage on the preceding loop and he left no stone unturned in his attempt to steal a last-gasp victory from Moffett.
But Moffett had no interest in giving up his West Cork title. Along with Andy Hayes, he tramped his Hyundai through the guttery test and flew to an eventual 8.9-second rally win.
Keelan Grogan and Ayrton Sherlock stole the show in West Cork’s Rally4 category. The Peugeot 208 crew led the front-wheel-drive category by over a minute after the first day of action.
Their advantage ebbed away on Sunday morning, though, when nominal times and a fogged windscreen cut their lead over Shane Quinn and Patrick Brides to 24 seconds.
Stage wins on the subsequent Ardfield and Shanaway tests reinstated their one-minute margin which let them comfortably take class honours at the end of the 15-stage rally.
Shane Quinn’s grasp on second was made more comfortable when rival Cian Caldwell was forced to retire with electrical issues on stage 10.
Casey Jay Coleman and Joseph Kelly fought for the final podium position across Sunday’s soaking stages with the former finally coming out on top by 14.3 seconds.
McEvoy Motorsport Modified ITRC
Gary Kiernan and Cathal Mulgrew enjoyed battles with Daniel McKenna, Kevin Eves, Jason Black, and Chris Armstrong throughout a bitterly fought battle for top modified honours on Saturday.
The intense rivalries waned from the off on Sunday as Daniel McKenna retirement Shanaway’s opening test with a broken driveshaft.
Black was another to retire on Sunday’s opening stage. Electrical issues ground his Toyota Starlet to a halt in the rain.
A spin for Chris Armstrong put him out of contention on the same test, paving the way for Kiernan to cruise through the rest of Sunday and seal top points in the McEvoy Motorsport Modified category.
The drama propelled Frank and Lauren Kelly into second position while Colin Byrne became another frontrunner to fall into retirement.
The day of attrition hit Class 13 as Oliver Benton retired from a 48-second class lead in his Ford Escort Mk2. Cian Walsh and Dylan Doonan picked up the pieces in their Toyota Corolla to win the popular class by one minute and 19 seconds.
Synergy Motorsport Engineering Historic ITRC
A slender four seconds separated the top two Synergy Motorsport Engineering Historic crews after West Cork’s opening day of action.
Reigning Historic champions, Neil Williams and Anthony O’Sullivan, led the way and looked to have a clear run after their nearest rivals Sebastian Ling and Aled Rees were forced to stop on the car-crushing Shanaway test.
But Williams’ hopes were crushed on his co-driver’s home event. The Ford Escort crew suffered a front-right puncture on Ardfield, after running over a stone pulled out from a separate incident. It cost them two minutes and they had to settle for fifth in Historics.
Duncan Williams and Guy Weaver inherited the lead but faced stiff opposition from Wayne Evans and Sion Jones for the historic category victory.
The two Ford Escort crews fought it out in the bitter conditions with Williams and Weaver coming out on top by an incredible 0.5 seconds.
Tom Clark and Alistair Wylie completed the podium positions ahead of the Subaru Legacy of Ray Breen and Michael Maher.
Paul Browne Plant Hire & Civil Engineering Junior ITRC
Darragh O’Donovan and Michael White sealed a sensational four-and-a-half-minute victory in West Cork’s Junior category. The Paul Browne Plant Hire Junior ITRC crew were in a different league as Jamie O’Rourke and Conor Cross finished second.
Ben McIntyre and Andrew Wedlock finished a further 10 seconds back in third.
WCR23_MOFFETT_DH (by D Harrigan Images): 2023 West Cork International Rally winners Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes.