The 2017 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship gets underway this Sunday for the Carrick on Suir Motor Club’s Willie Loughman Memorial Forest Rally. Six special stages in the scenic Suir Valley lie in wait for the eager crews, with a real sting in the tail this year, a twenty-two kilometre forest test, which will be run twice in the afternoon, making a formidable eighty kilometre forest feast!
Another feast for the spectators is a truly mouth-watering entry! Former British Rally Champion-Keith Cronin from Bantry is at number one, and is debuting a new R5 Ford Fiesta, whilst former British Junior Champion-Marty McCormack in his R5 Skoda Fabia is seeded second and is also testing before a British Rally Championship campaign. Behind them is former Valvoline Forest Rally Champion and Billy Coleman Award Winner – Josh Moffett, also in an R5 Fiesta, who completes a very pacey top three. That’s far from it however on the four wheel drive front, with another former Irish Forest Rally Champion – Mick O’Brien in his WRC Fiesta, Tyrone’s Niall McCullagh in an S14 WRC Subaru Impreza, and yet another former forestry champion Pat O’Connell in his familiar Mitsubishi Evo 9 making up the top six. Seven could be lucky for Adrian Hetherington in his Toyota Corolla WRC, a car he really came to grips with last season, whilst Shaun Sinclair makes the trip from England with his S14 WRC Impreza. Strabane’s Martin Cairns is never too far away from the top in his Fiesta WRC, whilst Darren McKelvey completes the top ten in his Evo. Ger Lucey, runner up in the series last year, once again wheels out his Evo 8, and this event is one he usually flies in, whilst the Evo’s of Dermot Kelly, Conor McCourt and Jonny Leonard make up the top fifteen, and even outside that there are some potential challengers. It really is a forest feast!
The Valvoline two-wheel drive battle was an intense one last season and reigning champion Shane McGirr with his trusty Toyota Starlet will be the hot favourite once again. The MK2 Escort brigade will be trying to topple the Toyota, as Glens of Antrim 2wd winner- David Crossen, 2015 champion Mickey Conlon, John Gordon- now used to his sixteen valves and David Condell lead the charge. Adding variety is Damien McGuaran with his BMW 320, whilst the Junior category- class sixteen in the series also has a strong starting line up. The ever spectacular Derek Mackeral leads them away in his rebuilt Nova, with 2016 class winner- Stephen Dickson in his R2 Fiesta, James Driver- Peugeot 206, Shane Kenneally – Honda Civic and Johnnie Mulholland – Hyundai i20 amongst those in pursuit of that coveted Billy Coleman Award nomination at the end of the season.
Another all new innovation for 2017 is the introduction of the M. O’Brien Plant Hire Junior 1000 class for 16-18 year olds. As with any new series it will take an event or two to build up and this first round is very much a trial event, with local lad Alex Byrne, part of the Carrick on Suir Motor Club Youth Academy programme in a Suirway Forklift backed Peugeot 107. Jason Murphy in a similar C-Sport run car backed by Westyre, is the second of the brave drivers. With a fabulous prize of a drive in an R2 car on a 2018 Irish Forest Rally round, entry vouchers for the top three on each round: €200 euro to first place, €125 euro to 2nd place and €75 euro to third place and Ears Motorsport putting up two sets of tyres as prizes it’s all to go for. Added to this every crew that registers for the Junior 1000 Championship will receive a voucher for one set of pace notes and a DVD from each supplier – On The Pacenote and Patterson Pacenotes. During the season the incentives are fantastic for these teenage rally drivers, who could be the next big names in the world of rallying.
Once again we would like to give special thanks to all our sponsors – Valvoline, Andrew Fanning Motor Factors, M. O’Brien Plant Hire, Suirway Group Forklifts & Farm Machinery, Jelf Motorsport Insurance, Exact Signs & Graphics, Pottinger Machinery, Ears Motorsport / Kumho Tyres, Colton Pump & Heating Services, Coillte, Concept Fire Services Ltd, Gordon Automotive Services, Barron Pix & SVS Incar Cameras.
2017 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship-Rounds
Round 1 – 12th February- Carrick on Suir Forest Rally
Round 2 – 8th April- Moonraker Forest Rally
Round 3 – 13th May- Donegal Forest Rally
Round 4 – 30th July-Jim Walsh Cork Forest Rally
Round 5 – 2nd September-Enniskillen Lakeland Stages Rally
Round 6 – 14th October-Rathfriland MC Down Forest Rally