In front of one of the biggest crowds of spectators in recent times, Waterford’s Craig Breen and his Killarney co-driver Paul Nagle took their Ford Fiesta R5 to victory in the Corrib Oil Galway International Rally, the opening round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
Yet, it was the third stage before Breen moved into the lead and the fifth stage before he set a fastest stage time — that actually saw him reclaim the advantage. However, he used all his World Rally experience to pace himself through typical conditions. At the end of the nine stages he was 14.4 seconds ahead of Fermanagh’s Alastair Fisher with Monaghan’s Josh Moffett 33.7 seconds further behind to complete an all Fiesta R5 top three.
A delay due to the set-up of the stage didn’t unsettle former winner Garry Jennings (Subaru WRC) who overcame the muddy conditions to set the best stage time to lead Tarmac series returnee and fellow countyman Alastair Fisher (Fiesta R5) by 2.8 seconds with Josh Moffett 1.3 seconds further behind. Top seed Breen, who opted for slicks, was fourth - 4.3 seconds off the lead. The top six also featured the similar cars of Daniel Cronin and Declan Boyle.
Fisher was best on the second stage at Ballyfa and moved into the lead - 2.7 seconds ahead of Breen with Jennings a further two seconds back.
While Jennings was fastest through the final stage of the loop — Colmanstown — the rally had its third leader in as many stages with Breen arriving at the Athenry service complex a mere three tenths of a second ahead of Jennings.
Leader Breen was relaxed and admitted that the second stage was his preference. Jennings had issues with the gearbox and turned up the anti-lag in order to minimise time loss, the problem was sorted at the service. Fisher slotted into second 6.6 seconds but was annoyed with himself as he spun and lost about ten seconds on S.S. 3. Josh Moffett was relatively untroubled, on the second stage his brother Sam was the first major retirement when he was caught out on some shiny tar and his Fiesta slid off the road.
Building his confidence levels Jon Armstrong (Fiesta R5) in fifth was happy with his pace on the third stage. Sixth placed Cronin lost a few seconds on the S.S. 3 with a half spin as he struggled for grip on the earlier stages. As the crews departed the service park, Moffett’s Fiesta developed a problem that was solved by replacing the ECU.
Out on the fourth stage a charging Jennings reclaimed the lead to edge 2.8 seconds ahead of Breen with Fisher 8.8 seconds further back.
Undeterred, Breen punched in his first fastest stage time (S.S.5) to edge back in front with a lead margin of 6.4 seconds. Second placed Jennings was 5.5 seconds ahead of Fisher.
Then, on S.S. 6 the rally took a decisive turn as Jennings ran out of road and slid out of the rally and beached his Subaru WRC. Breen arrived at the final service with a 13.8 seconds advantage with Fisher declaring that he had settled for second while Moffett - 14.6 further adrift in third was of similar mind.
Armstrong in fourth continued his upward curve in terms of confidence, Henry in fifth struggled with the set-up of his Skoda Fabia R5 as an untroubled Greer completed the top six. Cronin punctured.
On the final loop there were no great changes as Breen took the win and remarked, “Roll on West Cork” in reference to the next round. The top ten also included R5 debutant Declan Boyle, Cronin as Stephen Wright edged out Stephen McCann for ninth on the final stage.