Things you need in order to watch rallying in Ireland, in February: waterproof boots, waterproof trousers, waterproof coat, some sort of water repellent head gear and The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. That’s the actual boat, not the song. A slight exaggeration, maybe, but for this years Galway International Rally, there were occasions where the Fab Four’s submersible would have come in handy.
The Colm Quinn BMW Galway International Rally raised the curtain on Round 1 of the Clonakilty Black Pudding Irish Tarmac Championship. Unseasonal deluges, even by Ireland’s standards, meant that the special stages, centred on the market town of Gort, had been severely affected by flooding. But remarkable work by the organisers ensured the rally went ahead, which was restored once again to a two day format.
When the crowds gathered on Eyre Square on Friday night for the ceremonial start, there was a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement. The excitement associated with seeing a returning hero Eugene Donnelly – enter the fray once again in a JCW Mini WRC and the anticipation of seeing Sam Moffett’s new Ford Fiesta WRC for the first time. Returning series champion, Garry Jennings and fellow Subaru Impreza drivers Declan Boyle and Steve Simpson rounded off the front runners, along with Donagh Kelly’s Ford Focus WRC.
The stages on day 1 were slightly shorter than originally planned, due to the severe flooding. But it didn’t make them any less fast or free flowing, despite being typified by significant amounts of standing water and muddy, greasy junctions.
Sam Moffett set the pace on the opening test, but only a mere 4 seconds covered the top 5 cars. In the National section, Peadar Hurson posted a time with his aging Ford Escort WRC that was on a par with the latest, new-age machinery. The incredible rear-while drive Toyota Starlet of Declan Gallagher was not far behind.
On the second stage of the day, Declan Boyle hit the front with a searing time in his Impreza and stayed there for the rest of the day. This was despite complaints about the health of his engine and a subsequent string of stage wins for Garry Jennings. Eugene Donnelly was always within striking distance in the Mini, but had failed to post truly commanding times liked he used to, when he previously dominated the series.
Donagh Kelly’s speed improved steadily throughout the day, but he wasn’t troubling the very top of the leader board in the way that he would have liked. Sam Moffett’s early flashes of fierce pace had been tempered by a slight brush with some Galway scenery and apparent launch control issues. As a result, he dropped outside the top three. Nevertheless, it was an incredibly competitive field and by the close of day 1, just over 14 seconds separated the top six cars.
In classes R4 and R5, Colm Murphy’s Impreza was slugging it out with Josh Moffett’s Mitsubishi Lancer. The pair traded times like dueling gladiators through the wind, rain and occasional hail. Overnight supremacy belonged to Murphy, due to his lead of around 4 seconds.
Rallying can be a proper war of attrition at times, which Peadar Hurson found out, once again. He had been consistently rapid throughout in the Escort WRC, but the frenetic pace was all too much for the Ford’s engine, which died an untimely death in the fading afternoon light. The baton in the National rally was passed to Gallagher’s Starlet.
The second and final day, announced itself with a bang. In Eugene Donnelly’s case, a literal bang. Many had felt that the notoriously slow starting Donnelly would use the 8 stages on Sunday to reel in his prey and assume rallying’s top step once again. Not so. A spectacular off-road excursion on the opening stage damaged the Mini beyond repair and ended his rally.
But the drama didn’t end there. A phenomenal charge by Garry Jennings on Black Road saw him close to within 0.7 seconds of Declan Boyle. Jennings had made a statement and it was up to Boyle to respond.
By the time most people had thrown off the covers and opened the curtains to see what Sunday had to offer, Irish rally fans had lined the Galway stone walls to watch Jennings Subaru tear around the picturesque environs of Lough Cutra, anti-lag reverberating off barns and farm houses like mighty claps of thunder. Another fastest time saw Jennings cut Boyle’s lead again; this time to just 0.2 seconds. The action paused for a short service in Gort, before resuming for another loop of three make or break stages.
In the R4/R5 class, the lead had been swinging back and forth between Colm Murphy and Josh Moffett. However, the first stage of the day also put paid of Murphy’s chances of a win, when he broke a wishbone in his Subaru, which led to his eventual retirement. Josh Moffett took the overall honours, in his R5 Lancer; Stephen McCann, Eugene Meegan and Martin Doherty, all in R4 Lancers followed suit. After Hurson’s demise on day 1, Declan Gallagher monopolised the national category by some considerable distance, taking the win comfortably from Wesley Patterson’s ubiquitous Mark 2 Ford Escort.
Rain and flooding dominated the build up to the rally and in the end it was the excess rain water which was the decisive factor in determining overall honours. Jennings Impreza hit a pool of floodwater in the first stage after service on Sunday morning and careered into a field. He lost over 40 seconds and ripped off a front bumper in the process.
Undeterred, Jennings launched another scintillating charge, in an attempt to claw back the lost time. The Impreza shot over the bumpy tar like a guided missile. One spectator clocked the Subaru at 136mph, before braking hard for a three bale chicane. At this point, the rally looked to be Declan Boyle’s to lose, but Garry’s never say die attitude saw him reduce the arrears to 21 seconds, before Boyle countered with two fastest times himself, to take a well-deserved and well-earned maiden International victory.
Outside the top two, Sam Moffett looked on course to record a podium finish in his first outing in the Fiesta, but Donagh Kelly pulled off a fantastic last stage comeback to pip Moffett to the final podium spot.
Photos courtesy of Reinis Babrovskis: Reinis B Photography
Colm Quinn BMW Galway International Rally 2014
1. Declan Boyle/Brian Boyle – Subaru Impreza WRC
2. Garry Jennings/Rory Kennedy – Subaru Impreza WRC
3. Donagh Kelly/Kevin Flanagan – Ford Focus WRC
1. Declan Gallagher/Ryan Moore – Toyota Starlet
2. Wesley Patterson/Johnny Baird – Ford Escort
3. Pat Kelly/Jonathan Kelly – Subaru Impreza