At last weekend’s Clanree Hotel Mini Stages, Frank Cunningham and Arron Forde were entered in the ex Bertie Fisher Toughmac Sierra Cosworth 4×4. Watching the guys pass me on the stages transported me back almost 25 years, when Bertie & Rory Kennedy would do battle with McRae, Brookes, McHale and the other stars of the day.
In 1991 Bertie missed Galway, as he was in the process of buying the ex-Russell Brookes Sierra, E28JWK. The RED prepared full works spec car was responsible for denying Bertie near certain victory on the 1990 Manx Rally. Bertie had built a sizeable lead when he had a collision with another crew’s service barge and got a puncture on the road section. Fisher fitted the spare, which wasn’t ideal for the conditions, and Brookes got his nose in front. There was further controversy before the finish but no appeal was lodged and Brookes was declared the winner.
The Sierra was the first four wheel drive GpA car used by an Irish privateer, but Bertie’s debut with the car in West Cork was marred when he rolled as he battled back from an early puncture. His plan to use West Cork as an opportunity to acclimatise himself with the car prior to the Circuit of Ireland suffered as a result, but the car was fixed and ready for battle over the Easter weekend.
The Circuit of Ireland was a round of the British Rally Championship and Colin McRae was the star that year. Not surprisingly, the Scot dominated the event in his Prodrive Rothmans Subaru Legacy, with Fisher the best of the rest over the weekend. As the year progressed Bertie & Rory scored two wins in the Sierra, the Ulster Rally and the Lakes of Killarney. With the year drawing to a close, the Sierra was sold and a Subaru was purchased for the 1992 season.
It is amazing that certain cars, colour schemes or exhaust notes can stir emotions and transport you back in time. Those years (early-mid ‘90s) were my golden era of Irish Rallying. In another 25 years will 2016 be seen as the start of another golden era of Irish Rallying? The organisers of the Tarmac Championship took some drastic decisions last year. I admit to being a little sceptical if it was for the best but, looking at the quality of the top 20 entered in the Galway Rally this weekend, it looks as if the decision was a big step in the right direction.
Galway can throw up so many variables in weather which can affect the results; flooding, fog and frost have affected stages in previous years. While the organisers have tried to select roads which are less likely to flood, fog and frost are beyond the control the organisers. The weather forecast is for a wet damp weekend.
How will the WRC and R5 car’s times compare on the stages? This is the big question, and everyone is waiting with bated breath until the end of stage one on Saturday morning to find out.
Garry Jennings and Declan Boyle have to be regarded as the guys to set the pace over the weekend; Garry’s Subaru S12b is still regarded as the best car for Irish roads. Declan’s Fiesta is the closest we are likely to see to the ultimate spec Msport car. Also, these two drivers are former Tarmac Champions and are used to battling for victory. The other WRC drivers are Derek McGarrity (problems may force him to withdraw) Roy White (still learning the car), Tim McNulty (after 4 year hiatus), Declan Gallagher and Dean Raftery in older generations cars.
There are 15 Class 5 cars and there is a good mix of R5 and S2000 cars, and drivers like Cronin, Fisher, Henry and the Moffett Brothers have the capabilities to set top times. Add to the mix the likes of Joe McGonigle, Tommy Doyle, and Stephen Wright, Jonny Greer, Joe Connolly and category new comers such as Tomas Davies, Aaron McHale, Brendan Cumiskey, and John Mulholland, and the competition is guaranteed to be fierce!
The action starts on Saturday morning and the day comprises of three stages repeated three times. First stage is Corbally Beg and, at almost 17km long, will be a fair wakeup call for the crews. The other two stages are Eyrecourt and Fairfield and with three passes each, this will amount to just over 100km of stage miles.
Sunday will be an early start for the crews, with first car leaving the start of Black Road just before 9.00am and then onto Lough Cutra. These two stages are repeated three times and add 88km to the competitive mileage for the weekend. The winners are due back on the ramp at approx 3.30pm on Sunday afternoon.
No doubt the crowds will be hanging out over the stone walls over the two days, cheering on their favourite crews. In 25 years will we look back and say we were there to see the start of this golden era in Irish Rallying?