The Corrib Oil Galway International Rally makes a welcome return to the calendar on Sunday next, 10th February, and a superb entry justifies the huge efforts made by Galway Motor Club. Over 120 entries have been received and after several years of struggling for numbers, Clerk of the Course Gary Leonard is delighted with the upturn. It is certainly one of the strongest entry lists seen on an Irish rally for some time with many of the top drivers in Ireland lining up to do battle on the stages. As usual the rally is the opening round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship and with many of the current crop of top drivers moving to R5 machinery for this year it could be one of the best championship seasons in a number of years.
The main interest focuses on the number one seed, Craig Breen with Paul Nagle co-driving in a Ford Fiesta R5. Craig has decided to compete in Galway as he waits for an opportunity to get back rallying on the world stage, and he will certainly be the benchmark for the other Irish drivers competing. It’s not often we get to see a world championship driver in the prime of his career competing on an Irish international and Craig’s appearance will certainly draw a crowd. Garry Jennings & Rory Kennedy in a Subaru Impreza WRC are second seeds and former winners in both 2016 and when the rally last ran in 2017. They are aiming to become the first crew since the event first ran in 1971 to take a hat-trick of victories. Garry although ineligible for tarmac championship points in his current car, is one of five former champions taking part in the Galway. 2018 tarmac champion Josh Moffett lines up just in front of his brother Sam the 2017 champion, both as usual in Ford Fiesta R5’s. The Moffett brothers have proven to be the ones to catch in recent years in any championship they compete on.
Alastair Fisher & Gordon Noble at five make a very welcome return to the stages in a Ford Fiesta R5 after a quiet 2018. Alastair’s last championship assault saw him take the runner up spot in 2017, and despite the layoff will still be one to watch. A lot of interest focuses on seeds 6 and 7 with the 2014 & 2015 tarmac champions Declan Boyle & Donagh Kelly making the move to R5 cars for the coming season. Boyle has stuck with Ford as he moves to the R5 Fiesta while Kelly has changed marque and will drive a Skoda Fabia R5. It will be very interesting to see how the pair take to their new cars, but it shouldn’t take them long to get right into the thick of things. Desi Henry had a frustrating year in 2018, with an excellent 3rd place in Killarney and 5th in West Cork the only finishes from five rallies. He will be hoping to put the experience of last year to use on a more consistent basis and if he goes well, can challenge for a podium position.
A dark horse at number 9 is Jon Armstrong with Noel O’Sullivan co-driving. Armstrong is a driver with enormous potential despite not competing competitively in fifteen months. His Fiesta R5 won’t be completely new to him as he tackled two WRC rounds in Germany and Spain in a similar car back in 2017, but it may take a couple of stages for him to get settled in. Jon has made one previous appearance in Galway, back in 2017 when he drove a Ford Fiesta R2T and performed very well against much more powerful cars. Rounding off an excellent top ten is Manus Kelly & Donall Barrett who have also gone down the R5 route with a Hyundai i20 R5. There will be a learning curve for Manus also as the Hyundai is LHD, but he is an exceptionally quick driver and has adapted to new cars in rapid fashion in the past.
There is quality throughout the field with Joe McGonigle (Mini WRC), Jonny Greer & Daniel Cronin (both Fiesta R5) and Meirion Evans (Hyundai i20 R5) running just outside the top ten. There are entries also for Stephen McCann, Stephen Wright, Cathan McCourt, Philip Allen, Brendan Cumiskey & Aaron MacHale all in R5 cars. David Guest former Group N champion brings his Skoda Fabia S2000 to Galway while P.J. McDermott makes a rare appearance in his Impreza WRC. The National rally looks very competitive as well, with Damien Tourish & Damian Toner leading the 2WD brigade at numbers 25 & 26. Stuart Darcy has moved to an Escort this year and is always quick, while David Condell, Raymond Conlon, Richard Whelan and Tom Flaherty are among the other 2WD top seeds. Ray Cunningham & Adrian Kermode lead the way in the Historic followed by David Goose, George Cullen, Craig MacWilliam & James Power. The juniors are seeded into the main field with Conor Murphy, Mick Lonergan and Michael Cahill the top three and they will compete over the first six stages.
There are 9 stages scheduled for Sunday – with stages at Attymon, Ballyfa and Colmanstown all to be run three times. The service is in Athenry with the first stage due to start shortly after 9am. The first car is due back at the finish ramp at approximately 4:30pm.