The 2018 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship gets underway on St. Patricks weekend, the 17th & 18th March with the Quality Hotel Clonakilty West Cork Rally. With the traditional season opener, the Galway International Rally not running this year it means the lead up to this year’s series is six weeks longer. This doesn’t appear to have dimmed the enthusiasm of the crews looking to participate though, with strong interest from most of the regular contenders.
Last year’s champion Sam Moffett had a remarkable year, winning championships both on tarmac and forestry surfaces. While not planning as hectic a schedule for 2018, he does nonetheless plan to defend his title starting with West Cork in March. With two outright wins on international rallies last year Sam with co-driver Karl Atkinson will be pushing hard to add to that list for this year. Sam’s younger brother Josh is also looking forward to the forthcoming season after a mixed year last year. He will be hoping for a more consistent run in 2018 and had his best result of the championship in Clonakilty last year when he finished second overall and took his only maximum points score of the year. He had a titanic struggle with Sam on the Cork 20 only to go off the road on the final stage when leading and will be hoping for better luck this year.
Robert Barrable only competed on four rounds last year and finished on two of them. He brought the first Hyundai i20 R5 to Ireland and showcased its enormous potential with some strong performances and very quick times. Rob estimates he is 80% certain to contest this year’s championship but hasn’t disclosed which car it will be at this time.
Desi Henry is another driver who has yet to announce which car he will have for 2018, but has committed to the championship for the coming year. Jonny Greer also plans to be in West Cork having only done two rounds last year as he concentrated on BRC commitments. Jonny has had some very good results in Clonakilty in the past and a repeat of this in March would get his campaign off to a very good start.
Stephen Wright did very little rallying in the latter half of 2017 and in general it was a frustrating season for the Monaghan driver. He is looking forward to committing to a full championship campaign starting in Clonakilty. Brendan Cumiskey is another who is looking to compete again this year while Keith Lyons from Limerick is moving up to a Fiesta R5 for 2018 and also plans to be in Clonakilty.
A lot of attention was focused on Eugene Donnelly’s deal with MRF to drive a Hyundai i20 R5 for the coming year and Eugene is currently working on testing the new car to get it ready for Irish roads and is pleased with progress to date. 2016 champion Keith Cronin and 2017 runner up Alastair Fisher haven’t made any firm commitments for the coming year yet but neither have ruled out competing on the Tarmac series.
The Irish Tarmac Rally Championship is heading into its 40th season having started back in 1978 (the 2001 championship didn’t happen due to Foot & Mouth Disease). Over the years some of the best drivers in Ireland and the UK have taken the title with Eugene Donnelly & Austin McHale leading the roll of honour with five titles each.
Donnelly is the last driver to retain his title (in 2007) which gives an idea of the task facing Sam Moffett this year. Other drivers who have taken the title more than once over the years include the likes of Bertie Fisher, Jimmy McRae, Mark Lovell, Kenny McKinstry, Andrew Nesbitt and Derek McGarrity.
by Kevin O’Driscoll,
T.R.O.A. Press Officer,