Monaghan driver Josh Moffett took a second consecutive FIA Celtic Rally Trophy victory on the Quality Hotel Clonakilty West Cork Rally, after overcoming a throttle issue and off-road scare on the traditional St Patrick's weekend event.
Josh and new co-driver Andy Hayes took the early lead on Saturday morning in cold but dry conditions, taking advantage of recent event practice to grab a 7.7s advantage over brother Sam and Karl Atkinson, the reigning Trophy champions, both driving Ford Fiesta R5's. Robert Barrable/Damien Connolly were third on the opener, but still familiarising themselves with their Ford, as were Jonathan Greer/Kirsty Riddick and Desi Henry/Liam Moynihan, all three drivers getting accustomed to their new mounts. Henry had brake issues and bled the system before SS2.
Multiple former Irish champion Eugene Donnelly meantime made a steady start in his Hyundai R5 with Mark Kane, new tyres to get used to as well as the car itself. Josh continued to push his advantage, up to 26.1s after half of the opening days eight stages, with Henry 43s back in third, having overhauled Barrable after a couple of earlier spins. Stephen Wright/Arthur Kierans held fifth followed by Greer and Daniel Cronin (brother of 2016 FIA Celtic Rally Champion Keith), as Ford's filled the top seven places. It took until SS6 for someone other than Josh Maffett to appear at the top of the stage times, brother Sam and Barrable joint fastest to nibble back just 1.7s.
On the final stage of the day, a repeat of the same test, Sam took a more meaningful 5.9s off his sibling, but the overnight leaderboard still favoured Josh by 28.1s. Henry had been locked in a battle with Barrable through the afternoon for third place, 7.1s separating them as Barrable became more confident with his car, with Wright and Greer having their own battle for fifth, just 0.3s between them. Ed Twomey/Sean Hassett had been the sole retirement in the R5 class, their Abarth Punto reported off the road.
Composure was the call for the leaders come Sunday morning in dry, dusty conditions despite snow showers threatening. However, an off-road excursion very early on the first of the day's six stages wasn't quite in the plan, clipping a wall when the throttle stuck open, flattening the exhaust. Nonetheless they retained the lead. Desi Henry woke up best having tweaked the Fiesta set-up overnight, still nip and tuck with Barrable as Greer and Cronin both swept passed Wright, the three crews separated by just 1.2s in their duel for fifth place.
On SS10 it was Sam's turn to be fastest despite saying he had no confidence on different tyres and now 23.7s off Josh's lead, as Barrable closed back in on Henry's third spot. Donnelly broke down on the way to the final service halt with suspected fuel starvation on the Hyundai, as snow started to fall. On SS12 Sam reduced his arrears to his brother to just 16s having switched back to the tyres he was more familiar with, whilst Josh's intermittent throttle issue continued. A fastest time for Henry put him 6.6s up on Barrable in the battle for third, with Greer next, just 2.2s up on a pushing Cronin, Wright a further 8.6s back as battles across the leaderboard came to a thrilling head.
Sam was again quicker on the penultimate SS13, now 14.1s off the lead, but had left his charge too late, ruing his tyre choice earlier in the day, unable to get heat into them in the conditions. Behind, Henry had a spin on water and lost 30s, handing third to Barrable. There was worse trouble still for Greer, who had to stop for around three minutes in the stage, changing a puncture. Josh Moffett's eventual winning margin was 9.3s in a family 1-2, with Barrable completing the podium after two tough days of high speed stages. Henry was left disappointed in fourth, ahead of Cronin who had brake problems towards the end.
Wright completed the top six, feeling he'd just refamiliarized himself with his stead by the end of the event, as Donnelly was pleased to finish and learn a lot on his R5 debut, Greer slipping to eighth at the Clonakilty finish. There was late drama for Keith Lyons/Sean Hegarty, who rolled their Fiesta on the final test. John Coyne, marking 50 years of rallying, thrilled spectators with his Porsche 997-R GT despite having to use Rally 2 regulations to complete the event.
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