THE West Cork Rally came into focus very much with the cancellation of the Clonakilty event due to the Covid-19 situation.
There is no doubt that it was disappointing for all concerned but the organisers didn’t hesitate to act quickly following An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s statement.
The Cork Motor Club enjoy a great relationship with the West Cork community and much of that has been channelled through the local West Cork Rally Committee in Clonakilty.
Indeed, few rally organising clubs enjoy such support from the local business sector and wider community.
Since its inception in 1977 the event has gone from strength to strength and its status as rounds of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship and the British Rally Championship is just reward for the efforts of all concerned.
With a top-class entry it was expected that the battle for supremacy would be frenetic.
Back in 2011 the event had its closest-ever finish when Swords driver Robert Barrable (Skoda Fabia S2000) beat Midleton’s Daragh O’Riordan (Subaru WRC) by just 1.3 seconds - that remains the closest margin of victory recorded on the event that is now estimated to be worth some €4million to the local economy.
Barrable also wrote himself into the records for another reason - his father Michael, driving a Ford Focus WRC won the event in 2004 - they remain the only father and son duo to have won the rally.
Nine years ago, Robert Barrable (23 at the time) and the then reigning Billy Coleman Young Rally Driver of the Year award winner also became the youngest winner of the West Cork Rally.
Co-driven by Monaghan’s Damien Connolly, they fended off the spirited challenge of Midleton’s Daragh O’Riordan and his Derry co-driver, Tony McDaid aboard an S12B Subaru WRC, the East cork driver had upgraded from his S11 Subaru while Barrable was also on a debut outing in the Skoda Fabia S2000.
Limerick’s Colm Murphy in a Group N Subaru and co-driven by Douglas’ Don Montgomery, led initially - a fraction of a second from O’Riordan with Clonakilty’s Kevin Kelleher third followed by Welshman John Dalton (Darrian T90) and local ace Damien McCarthy (Honda Civic).
Murphy lost time with a burst power steering pipe and slipped to third as O’Riordan took over the mantle of rally leader - 7.4 seconds ahead of Kelleher and his Bandon co-driver Ger Seaman. However, in changing weather conditions, Murphy quickly regained control of the rally.
All the time Barrable was making progress on what was his first tarmac experience in his new S2000 car.
The Mitsubishi of Kelleher and his Enniskeane co-driver Sean Hayde developed a misfire that took their service crew some time to trace the source of the problem, they also lost time with a spin.
By the end of Saturday’s action and as the weather deteriorated, Murphy remained at the head of the leaderboard - 15.8 seconds ahead of Barrable while a fine performance on the final stage of the day elevated Kelleher into third 28.8 seconds behind leader, Murphy.
O’Riordan was 34.6 seconds off top spot but was still very much in the equation.
O’Riordan posted the best time on Sunday’s opening stage (some nineteen seconds faster than Murphy) to slot into third and in the process displacing Kelleher, who bowed out on Stage 11, following a slow puncture and subsequent broken wheel that forced his car off the road.
Murphy continued to haemorrhage time with a cracked exhaust manifold.
The top three were separated by a margin of just 7.7 seconds.
Gaining in confidence Barrable took the lead following the second run through Ring with Murphy 5.9 seconds behind. Another fastest stage time saw Barrable move 13.1 seconds ahead.
For the next few stages the top duo traded stage times as Murphy’s challenge faded due to the continuing issues with the exhaust manifold.
On a dramatic penultimate stage O’Riordan, set a cracking time and duly cut the deficit to a mere tenth of a second.
After pushing each other through the roads of West Cork for two days, it all came down to the short spectator stage on the edge of Clonakilty town that set the scene for a thrilling finish as both drivers sought a first West Cork win.
Barrable running first on the road set a time of one minute and 28.5 seconds.
With spectators lining the route and stopwatches at the ready, it was delicately poised as O’Riordan pushed to the limit. Passing the finishing line, the one clock that really mattered recorded a time of one minute and 29.7 seconds.
Barrable had done enough to take the spoils on a memorable event and won by 1.3 seconds - a margin that remains the narrowest winning margin in Clonakilty where more than just every second counts.
Interestingly, Barrable’s father Michael (Ford Focus WRC) had held the record previously - winning the 2007 event by 10.4 seconds from the Subaru WRC of Tim McNulty.
Meanwhile, Murphy completed the top three as Wicklow’s Daniel Barry and co-driver Brian Duggan (Mitsubishi EvoIX) were fourth ahead of the Honda Civic top local crew of Barryroe’s Damien McCarthy and his Ownahincha co-driver, Eamonn Hayes.
Twelve months later (2012) O’Riordan and co-driver Tony McDaid (S12B Subaru WRC) made up for their disappointment and swept to victory finishing four minutes and 21.8 seconds ahead of the Darrian T90 of Welsh aces John Dalton/Gwynfor Jones.