Donnelly & Ferris take the honours at the Sean Conlon Memorial Tipperary Forest Rally
On a day that seemed to bring with it every sort of condition, from morning rain to afternoon sunshine, that made every one of the six stages a challenge, it would be Mark Donnelly & Sean Ferris who would return to Cahir as victors of the Sean Conlon Memorial Tipperary Forest Rally, and claim a back-to-back winning start to the 2023 Sligo Pallets Forest Rally Championship.
Although he would finish the day atop the podium with 19.8 seconds to spare, it was not Donnelly who would lead at the end of the opening test, but instead a similar Ford Fiesta R5 of Pat O’Connell and Mark Wylie led the way by seven tenths of a second, and the pair would set identical times on the 2nd stage. When O’Connell’s challenge ended due to a mechanical issue on the very slippy Ballydrehid test, Donnelly would return to service with a 15.8 second lead. Hot on the in-form Donnelly’s tail, today being his third victory in 2023 after the Championship opener in Killarney and the non-championship Fivemiletown rallies, would be 2022 Forest Championship runners-up Jordan Hone & Paul Hone in the sister AP-Art run Ford Fiesta. Right in the mix throughout, Jordan used all his experience to bring the car home in second place come the end of the day, testament to the work of the team in the past week following issues on the Borders Counties Rally the UK last weekend. With first and second going to the Fiesta pairing of Donnelly and Hone, it would be Vivian Hamill & Andrew Grennan who would bring their VW Polo GTi R5 home in third place, the pair claiming a fastest time on Stage 5 as well to compliment a great show of pace in the car. The experiences pair had a real battle on their hands to hold of young-gun Ryan Caldwell who would finish fourth alongside Arthur Kierans in a Skoda Fabia R5. While Donnelly seemed in control at the front of the field, the 2WD battle was a real ding-dong affair as the times swung in all manner of directions as reports of incidents filtered back from the stages.
In the end, as the champagned sprayed and the trophies were handed out, it was the incredibly unique Lada VFTS of Shane McGirr & Liam McIntyre who would claim the victory after a remarkable day’s rallying, which included punctures and a loss of wipers on the opening loop but incredible times set in the one-off machine. McGirr certainly did not have time to ease up, as good friend and rivals Hugh McQuaid & Declan Casey were within a whisker of the lead cars times as the results rolled in. In the end 10.9 seconds would separate the pair, but a 2WD Victory in Killarney mated to second today is an incredible points haul early on for the pair. Sharing the Podium with the Lada and McQuaid’s Ford MK2 Escort was the Ford Fiesta Rally4 of Dylan Eves & Ryan Farrell who were setting blistering pace in the FWD car. The result also sees Dylan claim a strong haul of points in the dual-surface Motorsport Ireland Junior Rally Series, an MI Academy backed series developing future rally talent. A real note as well must be taken of the incredible times set by Sam Stewart & Alan Johnston who would finish fourth in the two-wheel-drive battle in a 1600cc Ford Escort.
For all the drama in the other categories, the Junior1000 series once more delivered a roller-coaster day on the Sean Conlon Tipperary Forest Rally. The time sheets from Stage 1 definitely required a second look when Jack Kennedy & Colin O’Toole went 9.3 seconds quicker than anyone on the opening 10.1km Goatenbridge test, and backed up with another fastest time on Stage 2 had many thinking we were going to see a similar outcome to the Sligo Pallets Forest Championship opener in Killarney, but Kennedys event ended abruptly on Stage 3 when he left the road. There was further disappointment down through the field as Danny Brady &Conor Smith would retire with mechanical issues at the end of stage 1, and Jack Harris & Aaron O’Regan would slide out of a real battle for the lead on Stage 4. But, as all around them faltered, Tommy Moffett & Domhnall Lennon seized their opportunity and romped home to a fifty-four second victory and with it a huge championship point haul. Sharing the podium with Moffett were Ross Ryan & Peter Keohane in second, relieved to be back in Cahir having had a huge moment after the Flying Finish of Stage 6, and they were joined by a delighted Tommy Cronin & Karl Egan who has hopefully put to bed mechanical woes that blighted them in Killarney. After an incredible day in Tipperary and a highly successful return of the Sean Conlon Tipperary Forest Rally to the Sligo Pallets Forest Rally Championship calendar, all eyes are now set on Ballyvourney and the re-scheduled Moonraker Forest Rally which is now scheduled for June 25th.