Triton Showers National Rally Championship Rd7 preview: Liam Cleary Autoworld Clare Rally
It is hard to believe that it is four years since the Triton Showers-backed Motorsport Ireland National Rally Championship last visited Clare.
Between the pandemic and the new event rotation system, the last time the Liam Cleary Autoworld Clare Rally ran was in September 2019.
But it has been well worth the wait, organisers Clare Motor Club have attracted a stellar entry that has both strength and depth.
The Triton Showers National Rally Championship enters the home straight this weekend and all of the title protagonists will be in Ennis for the penultimate round of the eight-round championship.
Leading the fray after six rounds are defending champions, Josh Moffett and Keith Moriarty.
The Hyundai i20 Rally2 crew have a 20-point advantage over Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan.
However, the Derry/Kerry crew has won the last two rounds in Sligo and Meath and when dropped scores come into play, they have started one less round than Moffett and Moriarty which suggests, mathematically, the advantage is maybe with the Volkswagen Polo Gti crew.
But anything can happen in rallying and it looks certain that the championship will go to the wire at the Fastnet Rally in late October.
Waiting in the wings, should any of the top two falter at this late stage, is former champion Declan Boyle in a Citroen C3 Rally 2.
The Donegal man is third in the championship standings, while co-driver Patrick Walsh is fifth having missed the Raven’s Rock Rally and will start eighth on the road.
Joint fourth-placed Daniel Cronin and Declan’s son Michael start at four and six respectively in a brace of Polos.
At three is championship newcomer Dessie Henry, after finishing third on the ALMC he has decided to enter Clare too with a view to contesting the full series in 2024.
The overall modified category is a two-horse race between the Darrians of Kevin Gallagher and Kevin Morris while Cavan’s Tim Flood leads the Ford Escort Mk2 title race.
The National Junior Rally title has been decided in favour of Jack McKenna who cannot be overhauled, even with two rounds to go.
Only four J16 class cars have entered, but the Clare entry includes nearly 20 Class Two cars – the majority driven by career aspirational drivers.
Ryan McHugh, the leader of the Class 2 category in the Triton Showers National Rally Champion was a winner in Kerry and on the Raven’s Rock earlier this year in his Ford Fiesta Rally4.
Second-placed driver Cian Caldwell, the Sligo Rally winner, has also entered Clare but all eyes will be on Keelan Grogan who has won three of the five rallies he has contested this year including last time out in the ALMC Rally in County Meath in August.
Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy member Aoife Raftery will contest her first Irish National Rally Championship event of the year and will compete in Class 2 in her Ford Fiesta R2 this weekend.
The Galway driver has spent most of the year competing in the FIA Junior European Rally Championship in a Peugeot 208 Rally4 and is looking forward to putting her new international experience to the test on relatively home ground.
The class also features some newcomers, Craig Rahill for example has recently made the switch from a Class 12 Ford Escort and Kerry driver Mossie Costello will make his class tarmac debut having already contested a few gravel rallies in his newly acquired Fiesta Rally4.
Casey Jay Coleman and Rally Academy co-driver Lorcan Moore hope to give their Peugeot 208 Rally4 its tarmac debut in Banner County.
Rally Academy driver Dylan Eves is also on the Clare entry list as is his fellow Donegal man Mathew Boyle who is in fourth place in the championship standings.
One interesting entry comes in the shape of Max Smart and his co-driver Cameron Fair who is best known for his work alongside Jon Armstrong.
South African, Smart, is a member of the FIA Rally Star Programme, like Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy co-driver Ronan Comerford. Although entered class 11F in his Peugeot 208 it is anticipated he will switch to Class 2 ahead of the rally.
The nine-stage rally gets underway at 9 am Sunday morning, with the Service Park in the Quin Road Industrial Park in Ennis.