The Limerick Forest Rally, the penultimate round of the 2016 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship was always going to be an important one as the title chase nears it’s end. Whilst Josh Moffett scored a fabulous victory in his Fiesta R5, more significant in the championship is that Desi Henry’s second place moves him into the lead. Not only that, but key challengers Ger Lucey who led on points going into this rally and Michael Carbin, did not finish the Limerick Motor Club’s event.
Indeed the dramas started early on the first of the six stages, as the crews battled the wet conditions. Championship leader Ger Lucey in his Evo 8 was one of the retirements with a broken gearbox half-way through the stage, whilst Mickey Conlan ended up with his MK2 Escort stuck in a bog, just a few hundred yards into the first stage. Also significant on the growing retirement list was Monaghan charger Michael Carbin in the Evo 4. He battled through punctures on stages two and three, a branch ripping a windscreen wiper off, only to retire at service from sixth place with a broken rear differential.
There was more drama as Desi Henry, celebrating his birthday, had a version of the birthday bumps on stage one as the Fabia bumped off the scenery collecting a puncture, a broken alternator belt and warning lights were then flashing on the dash! It meant that he was over a minute slower than stage winner Josh Moffett, and chances of an overall win were slim. His brother Niall Henry in the Evo 10 also had suffered a puncture on stage one, damaging a suspension arm, and then suffered a slipping clutch, retiring from eighth after three stages. Patrick O’Brien was also in trouble on the opener with a loss of power and a loss of brakes, as once again the Tyrone driver headed for another retirement from a Valvoline round.
However another Tyrone driver Darren McKelvey with Graham Henderson co-driving had a superb rally in their Evo 9, clocking up third place overall, despite punctures on stages one and four. Dermot Kelly returned to the forests in his similar machine and showed that he still has some speed, claiming fifth with the experienced Greg Shinnors alongside. John Byrnes in his Evo 8 claimed a solid seventh, whilst Ian Graham clocked up his best finish to date in ninth. Ed Muldoon took Group N honours in tenth place, ahead of Ashley Dickson who had two punctures on the stages and bent suspension repaired in service.
The Valvoline two-wheel battle started with John Gordon fastest on the first test, just 0.6 of a second ahead of Shane McGirr. However John punctured on stage two and McGirr took the Starlet into a lead it was never to lose. Behind them David Crossen had a good day to take third despite being another to suffer a puncture-his delay being on stage four. Damien McGauran in his BMW 320 had a small off on stage two, losing considerable time, but the day belonged to Shane McGirr and co-driver Aileen Kelly. “We had a good day today, and it wasn’t an easy day” said Shane “I’m very much looking forward to the Glens of Antrim next month, it should be a great event.” Fourth overall was a fine result for Shane in slippery conditions, and with John Gordan sixth and David Crossen eighth it meant three two-wheel drive cars made the top ten.
Just outside the top ten in eleventh was the winner of the rallytrader.ie/ Kumho tyres Junior category. Collecting two Kumho Tyres from Ears Motorsport Ireland was Derek Mackeral in his Vauxhall Nova, which had lasted the distance without dramas this time. “I am delighted with today. We needed that result for the championship and I’m very happy” said Derek at the finish. Second on this occasion was Shane Kenneally in the MK2 Escort in sixteenth, but almost a minute and a half behind the flying Nova. Third was Stephen Dickson in the R2 Fiesta, after a few niggles along the way, and the finishing order is also the current championship order as they enter the final round.
At the front of the field Josh Moffett and Emmet Sherry powered to a fine victory by over a minute. “We are extremely happy with today’s rally, and hopefully it can be more of the same on the Glens of Antrim!” said Josh. Desi Henry’s birthday turned out a good one as he charged back into second place, with it taking the title lead, as once again the final round will decide the destiny of the coveted title.