2018 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship Rd 1 Preview
The 2018 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship gets under way this Saturday 3rd February with the first major Irish rally of the year, the Carrick on Suir based William Loughman Memorial Forest Rally. The traditional series opener is running a couple of weeks early this year but that has not detracted from the quality and quantity of entries with almost 80 crews set to line up at the start ramp this weekend. Rallying in Ireland may seem to be under pressure at the moment but Carrick on Suir Motor Club can feel justifiably proud of their work in attracting so many crews to the south-east.
Josh Moffett who won the William Loughman event last year is back with Stephen Thornton co-driving in a Ford Fiesta R5, and Josh will be looking to emulate his brother Sam who of course is the reigning Irish forestry champion. He will face some tough opposition as Andrew Purcell & Mark Wiley are also contenders for the top spot on the podium now that Purcell has acquired an R5 Fiesta, while four times BRC champion Keith Cronin is also believed to be contemplating an entry. Others looking to compete include USA based Monaghan man Barry McKenna, regular series competitor UK based Mick O’Brien and Ray Breen, father of Citroen works driver Craig, on his local event. Gerard Lucey from Cork, who finished third overall in last year’s championship in his Class 20 Mitsubishi Lancer returns to Carrick while Niall McCullagh and Liam Regan in their Group N versions should also be among those to challenge strongly. Stephen McCann is bringing his Ford Fiesta S2000 while Cathan McCourt makes the switch from a Lancer to a Citroen DS3 R5.
The 2WD battle will be, as always, one to watch. Last year’s championship runner up David Crossen put in some incredible performances throughout the year in his Escort and will be one of the favourites to continue that form. However the list of drivers willing to dethrone him is impressive, with Shane McGirr (Starlet), Michael Conlon, Vivian Hamill, Adrian Hetherington, Tommy O’Connell, John Gordon and Damien Hagan (all in Escorts) ready to do battle. Whoever comes out on top in the 2WD section will certainly have earned it the hard way.
The junior category also looks very exciting with Derek Mackarel and Johnnie Mulholland from last year’s junior championship being joined in Carrick by Marty Gallagher, John O’Sullivan and last year’s forestry Group N champion Jordan Hone. These are only a few of a dozen entries in Class 16, and the competition is sure to be fierce from the start. The M. O’Brien Plant Hire Junior 1000 series for 15-19 year olds is in its second season and last year’s champion Jason Murphy will be coming to Carrick to begin the defence of his title in his Peugeot 107. Aoife Gahan will also be gearing up for her first full championship season in a Chevrolet Spark while Peter Beaton from Scotland is entered in a Peugeot 107. The championship offers an attractive first overall prize of €1500 along with various other incentives and awards on each of the rounds.
The nine stage event begins at 11am this coming Saturday (3rd February) and will see the first six stages done in daylight, with the real sting in the tail being the final three tests completed in darkness. The first car is due back at the finish at approximately 8pm.