Irish Tarmac Championship Kicks Off

Posted: February 8, 2023 in Uncategorized

Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes began the defence of their Irish Tarmac Championship title

On last weekend’s opening round, the Corrib Oil Galway International Rally, the pair finished the two day event in 2nd place, 12.7 seconds in arrears of Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson after a very tough battle over 13 stages. Sam Moffett/Keith Moriarty making a return to the championship finished in 3rd place in their band new Hyundai i20 N Rally2

The ceremonial start began as usual in Eyre Square, where the teams get to show off their cars and sponsors as well as have a quick interview before heading to overnight Parc Fermé at Galway Racecourse.

It was an early start on Saturday, with the first stage beginning at 08:45. Saturday’s itinerary would consist of three stages ran three times for a total of nine stages and 111 kilometres. On the first special stage, ‘Coldwood’, Sam Moffett got his new car off to a perfect start scoring the stage win by a mere 0.6s from Cathan McCourt/Liam Moynihan. Sam commented that his tires worked really well for him. Evans/Jackson finished third fastest just a further 0.4s in arrears. Damien Connolly on the notes for Robert Barrable finished the stage in fourth place, with Moffett/Hayes finishing in fifth and said that he was too steady through the 7.5km test.

 Skehanagh was the name of SS2, just south of the village of Craughwell, and it was here that Moffett/Hayes put the foot down and secured their first stage win of the season and moved into the lead of the event. They completed the 15.24km stage on a time of 7:31.9, 3.2s faster than the car of Barrable/Connolly, who moved up into 3rd place overall. Evans/Jackson went third fastest, just 0.4s slower than Barrable. Sam Moffett could only manage the eighth fastest time on the stage, some 8s down on his brother. Commitment issues on the tricky sections were the reasons for this time loss he reported at the stage end. The final stage of the opening loop, ‘Eden Hill’ was cancelled when a resident decided to block the road, so it was back into service for a quick check over of the cars and a change of tyres. At first service, Josh Moffett held a slender lead of 0.8s over Evans with Barrable in 3rd place, just 1.9s down on Moffett. The racing was so tight that the top seven cars were all within 7s of each other. 

The weather took a turn for the worse for middle loop, when the cold and windy morning changed to a cold and wet noon. Unfortunately for the drivers, they had all left service before the rain came, so all had the wrong tyre package for the next three stages. On SS4 ‘Coldwood 2’, Sam Moffett once again set the fastest time, going 1.2s faster than the car of McCourt/Moynihan. Josh finished the stage in 3rd place, just a further 0.3s further back. All drivers noted how slippy the stage had become. Evans, who finished the stage with the fourth fastest time mentioned that he thought he had a puncture not long after the start due to how much the car was moving around on him. Sam was over the moon with his stage time as he was sure that he was on the wrong tyre compound. This stage win for Sam moved him into 2nd overall, dropping Evans into 3rd.

By the time SS5 began, the rain was non stop which left the remaining two stages far slippier than SS4. On this stage, Josh had an overshoot when the throttle in his Hyundai stuck open on the approach to a turn square right leaving him no choice to turn left and spin the car around on the handbrake before continuing on. It was an excellent recovery and showed why it is extremely important to have all escape roads clear of spectators. Sam took the stage win here by 0.5s from McCourt. Evans finished third fastest, 4.6s down on Sam’s benchmark while Josh dropped a full 8s, most of which was lost having the overshoot. This time loss dropped him to 4th overall, 5.3s in arrears of his older brother.

On SS6, which was everyone’s first run through the previously cancelled ‘Eden Hill’, Evans scored his first stage win with a time of 7:25.0 which was 1.2s quicker than Moffett/Hayes. Sam lost the lead of the rally on this stage, dropping 8.4s to the stage winner and dropped from 1st to 4th, but still within touching distance as he still was only 3.7s off the lead. Sam said his time loss was from not being committed enough through the middle section of the 14.2km stage.

At second service, Evans/Jackson now held a slender lead of 1.8s over Moffett/Hayes, with McCourt/Moynihan in 3rd place, just 3s off the lead. Moffett/Moriarty held 4th and Barrable/Connolly held 5th. The racing was still mighty tight as just 6s separated 1st to 5th. Garry Jennings/Arthur Kierans held 6th place, but were 20.5s off the lead.

On SS7, ‘Coldwood 3’ Sam Moffett couldn’t make it a hattrick of stage wins as he clipped a stone and both Josh and McCourt beat him through the opening stage of the days final loop. Barrable had a half spin on this stage and finished the stage 11s down on fastest. Evans finished the stage 7th fastest and said he’d a great run, but that the times aren’t reflecting that.

Another stage win on SS8 followed for Josh, finishing the stage 0.4s faster than McCourt. Sam finished the stage in third fastest, 5.4s down on his brother and commented that he was very wide on some corners and that it scared him a bit. Jennings had an excellent stage, finishing fourth fastest in his ten year old Fiesta R5. Regrettably, this stage would end Barrable/Connolly’s day as a fire started underneath their Citroën. Frantic waving from some spectators drew their attention and they immediately pulled over and got the fire out without any major issue, but their day was done. Evans finished the stage fifth fastest and still couldn’t understand where he was losing the time as he continued to feel he was driving very well.

Josh made it three stage wins from three on the days final loop, stopping the clock on SS9 5.8s faster than McCourt. In fact, Josh’s time was so great that, when Sam was told of Josh’s time at the end of the stage, he refused to believe it. Sam had finished the stage fourth fastest, a full 11s seconds behind Josh. Evans was third fastest, 8.9 seconds down and on hearing of Josh’s time said that he didn’t know if “he’d lost something, or if Josh had found something.” After the days final stage, it was back to the Galway Racecourse for overnight Parc Fermé.

After the opening day Moffett/Hayes held a 7.8s lead over 2nd place McCourt/Moynihan. Moffett/Moriarty held 3rd overall, 19.3s off the lead with Evans/Jackson a further 0.6s behind. Jennings/Kierans were in 5th place, 43.1s off 1st place.

Frosty weather greeted crews as they awoke Sunday morning. Sunday’s stages consisted of two stages repeated three times. SS10 ‘Black Road’ had to be cancelled as the mountain stage was treacherous with ice, as temperatures were still around minus 2 degrees. Luckily, SS11 ‘Ballydugan’ wasn’t in the mountains, so it ran as planned.

Evans went quickest on the days opener, setting a time 5.5s faster than Barrable/Connolly, who had repaired their car and returned under rally2 rules. Josh finished the stage in third place, dropping 5.7s to Evans. Unfortunately for McCourt/Moynihan they day came to an abrupt end when they were caught out on shiny tar and cold tyres and crashed out not long after the start line. Due to there being only a 30s interval between cars, Sam Moffett arrived before McCourt could get the OK board displayed, so Sam slowed down to make sure both occupants were uninjured before continuing. Sam received the same stage time as Josh due to having to slow down at the scene of the accident. Evans’s stunning stage time was enough to overtake Sam and go into 2nd overall, but was still 14.2s in arrears of Josh.

With the temperatures increasing, the Black Road stage ran as planned for the middle loop of stages. Both the Moffett’s had a stage to forget here, as Josh hit a bale in a chicane before having another overshoot and dropped a huge 19s. Sam fared no better, sliding into a wall and stalling the car. Such was the time loss that Evans was beginning to catch Sam on the stage. Patrick O’Brien/Stephen O’Brien finished the stage second fastest and were having an excellent event especially considering most of Patrick’s career was spent on the gravel of forest rallying. Once again Evans went fastest to take the lead of the rally by 4.8s from Josh who managed to only drop one position. Sam still held onto 3rd place such was the gap back to Callum Devine/Noel O’Sullivan in 4th.

On the second pass of Ballydugan, Josh had his third overshoot of the weekend as he was pushing to the max to try reel in Evans. The overshoot fortunately only cost him around 3.5s, but it was enough to allow Evans to extend his lead out to 8.3s with just two stages to go. Sam finished the stage third fastest but held a comfortable gap back to Jonny Greer/Niall Burns who had overtaken Devine by 1.1s to go into 4th.

On the penultimate stage of the event, O’Brien got his first stage win of the weekend and in the Tarmac Championship, much to the shock of stage end interviewer Killian Duffy. He completed the stage 4.6s faster than rally leader Evans. Josh finished the stage sixth fastest and said that the grip levels were changing so much that it was hard to commit.

Despite holding an 11.1s lead with only the last stage to complete, Evans still charged on and ended the stage setting the joint fastest time along with Greer/Burns to take a famous win on the opening round of the 2023 Tarmac Championship. The O’Brien’s finished the stage third fastest, just 1s down on the benchmark with Barrable/Connolly finishing fourth fastest. Josh cruised to the end without too much risk and finished the stage fifth fastest as he knew Evans was too far ahead for to be beaten so close to the end. Sam also took a cautious approach to the last stage and finished twelfth fastest, knowing his 3rd place overall wasn’t under threat and that it was still a great start to the championship.

In the end Evans/Jackson took the win by 12.7s from Moffett/Hayes with Moffett/Moriarty 3rd, 42s off the lead. Greer/Burns snatched 4th overall off Devine/O’Sullivan by 1.5s through the final 14.76kms of Ballydugan 3.

O’Brien/O’Brien finished an excellent 6th overall, despite a big moment of the last stage, when their Skoda slid wide around a long fast right hand bend. Jennings/Kierans finished right behind them in 7th OA. Brendan Cumiskey/Martin Connolly finished 15th OA in their VW Polo. Piaras O’Ceallachain guided Brian Lavelle to 17th OA and 1st in class 13. Mickey Conlon/Domhnall Lennon finished 31st OA and 1st class 12. Barrable/Connolly recovered from their fire to finish 42nd OA. Ryan Farrell guided Dylan Eves to 46th OA and 4th class RC4. Jack Maguire/Keith McConnon finished right behind them in 47th OA. Paul McPhillips guided Aaron McIntyre to 51st OA after making a return under rally2 rules.

Ashling McArdle navigating for Des Lyons retired after SS11 and Conor Foley who was on the notes for Martin McGee retired after SS7. The next round of the Tarmac Championship will take place on the 18th/19th of March with the West Cork Rally.

In the Junior section Jack McKenna/Damien Doherty took a hard fought win. Going into the final stage they held a 7s lead over Co. Cavan men Ben McIntyre/Andrew Wedlock. On the previous pass on the stage Ben had taken 7s out of Jack so it was very much all to play for. Unfortunately for the Cavan men, they would crash out near the start of the final stage thus allowing McKenna/Doherty a comfortable 20.5s win over 2nd placed Jason Gorham/Aaron Connaire. This was Jack’s second Galway International Junior win in a row after winning last years event with Conor Mohan in the navigators seat.

Elsewhere, the National Navigation Championship continues this weekend with the Skibbereen 100 Isles Navigation Trial. Local man Denis O’Donovan will be looking to score his fourth win in Cork navigations this season. Meanwhile Conor Mohan will begin his Junior World Rally Championship campaign in Sweden this weekend navigating for Donegal man Eamonn Kelly in a Rally3 Ford Fiesta. The rally begins this Thursday with the Umeå Sprint superspecial stage and finishes Sunday with an extended run of the Umeå stage.

Monaghan Motor Club are hosting an open meeting on Wednesday night the 22nd of February. Topics include the introduction of a marshals points system for competitors, the 2024 Monaghan Stages Rally, Pedal Car event and Navigation and Endurance Trials. The open meeting will take place in the Four Seasons Hotel and starts at 8pm sharp.

PRO: Oisín Sherlock 


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