Impressive win for McCormack in championship opener
Marty McCormack and Barney Mitchell (Skoda Fabia R5) were deserved winners of the William Loughman Carrick on Suir Forestry Rally after an excellent drive on the six stage event. The opening round of the Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship was tough for the competitors with slippy and very foggy conditions, particularly on the third stage which was cancelled for the 4WD on safety grounds as visibility was very poor. McCormack held off a strong challenge from Andrew Purcell and Garry Jennings over the course of the six stage event. The winning margin over Purcell (Fiesta R5) was eventually ten seconds after an intense battle with Jennings a further fifteen seconds further back in his Impreza WRC. 2017 forestry champion Sam Moffett hasn’t been out in the woods a lot since then, but was satisfied with fourth place just two seconds behind Jennings. Last year’s championship runner up Barry McKenna made a cautious start and had to settle for fifth place.
The 2WD category was won by Shane McGirr in his Toyota Starlet after David Crossen retired on the second loop after puncturing and suffering mechanical problems. Crossen had been the pace setter going into the afternoon stages with an advantage of over 30 seconds. McGirr did enough to take the 2WD honours despite strong pressure from Adrian Hetherington (Escort) only ten seconds behind with Michael Conlon (Escort) taking third place. The junior battle was also very intense with Josh McErlean (Peugeot 208) eventually coming out on top over Derek Mackarel (Vauxhall Nova). McErlean had led for the first four stages although the margin over Mackarel was very small and the Monaghan driver edged in front on the penultimate stage. However a big push by the Kilrea driver on the last stage saw him go nine seconds quicker than his rival and take the junior win by just seven seconds. Third junior home was Marty Gallagher in his Peugeot 208 after a steady run, followed by Jason Dickson with all four running in Class 16A. The remaining Junior finishers were in Class 16 (which is the only available class for juniors from next year) with Shane Kenneally, Gareth Deazley, Jason Murphy (last years J1000 champion) and Ayrton Sherlock all scoring points.
The M.O’Brien sponsored J1000 category was won impressively by Reece Pollock after an excellent drive. Marcus McElwee led after the second stage with Pollock just eight seconds behind. However McElwees rally ended on the third stage when his Skoda got beached leaving Pollock with a lead of almost a minute. Peter Beaton had made a slow start but had moved into second place ahead of Kyle McBride by first service with Aaron Whelan, Casey Jay Coleman, Joseph Kelly and Ella Conway completing the field still running. Conway had slipped off the road and lost a huge amount of time on the foggy third stage but was still running. Pollock kept a cool head to win the category by 35 seconds from McBride who set some excellent times on the afternoon stages to finish ahead of Beaton. The only change further down the order was Conway edging ahead of Coleman to take fifth of the seven finishers.