LEADING throughout, the Killarney duo of Rob Duggan/Ger Conway (Ford Escort) took a famous victory in the Rentokil-Initial Killarney Historic Rally.
They laid the foundation for the win by dominating the two runs at Moll’s Gap and after the day’s eight stages, took a 14.4 seconds victory over Waterford’s Craig Breen and his Killarney co-driver Paul Nagle (Ford Escort). Ovens driver Owen Murphy and his Askeaton co-driver Anthony Nestor (Ford Escort) were third — two minutes and 5.8 seconds further behind.
Duggan’s liking for the iconic Moll’s Gap was reflected by an eight second gain over the opposition that was classed as the best in years. Breen was his closest rival while defending champion Murphy, on his first competitive run in a Ford Escort, was a further five seconds behind.
The stages at Beallaghbeama and Shanera completed the opening loop and Breen punched in the best times on both, however, the gains were marginal in both instances and Duggan arrived at the Fossa service park with a 6.6 second lead.
Belfast’s Jonny Greer (Sierra) leapfrogged Murphy into third but was 28.2 seconds further behind, Murphy was a further 36.7 seconds back after his Escort lapsed on to three cylinders. Millstreet’s Mark Falvey (Ford Escort), like Murphy a former winner, saw his hopes go awry after an axle bolt snapped.
Out on the repeat loop Duggan, who experienced some understeer and a slight issue with the exhaust, powered through the Gap once more and gained most of what became a 10-second lead. For his part, Breen had a spin on the iconic stage that he reckoned cost him in or around 10 seconds.
Greer was forced out with transmission trouble with Murphy, having gambled on a tyre choice that didn’t pay dividends, regaining third but he was a minute and 35 seconds further behind. Meanwhile, Dubliner Robert Barrable (Escort) in fourth was another with tyre issues and another to spin, akin to Murphy, on the stage at Shanera.
Welsh driver Neil Williams (Escort) and his Ardfield co-driver Anthony O’Sullivan were untroubled in fourth ahead of Tyrone’s Ryan Loughran (Ford Escort), who was getting to grips with his left hand drive Escort.
Another Tyrone driver, Cathan McCourt, who was co-driven by Grace O’Brien, spun and crashed his Ford Escort on a patch of oil on the stage at Moll’s Gap. The stage also accounted for Glounthaune’s Luke McCarthy after his Escort lapsed on to two cylinders.
Duggan sealed a great win by setting the best times on the final pair of stages as second placed Breen acknowledged the high degree of pace. It was the first time that the overall times for the top two were quicker that the times set by the winner of the modified category. Murphy performed better towards the finish to retain third ahead of Williams, Barrable and Loughran.
The top ten also featured Killarney’s Alan Ring (BMW M3) and his Newcestown co-driver Adrian Deasy, they had brake troubles particularly through the second loop of stages, they were also hampered by a restricted tyre choice as they finished seventh. Donegal’s Martin Doherty (Ford Escort) a Killarney debutant followed in a top ten that was completed by the Escorts of Denis Cronin and Johnny O’Connor, Cronin was another to suffer with tyre choice.
There was also a Killarney victory in the Modified category as Colin O’Donoghue (Ford Escort) took the laurels finishing 19.3 seconds in front of opening stage leader Cavan’s Gary Kiernan, Donegal’s Martin McGee (Escort) was 26.5 seconds further behind in third. Kiernan admitted he had no answer to O’Donoghue’s pace.
Cavan’s Chris Armstrong was an opening stage casualty when he crashed at high speed that took front wheel from his Escort and ripped the rear axle from its axis. Donoughmore’s Leonard Downey and his Douglas co-driver Mark Murphy (Ford Escort) were the top Cork crew finishing tenth overall and third in Class 6. Midleton’s Daragh O’Riordan and co-driver Mikey Walsh (Ford Escort) were twelfth overall.
Irish Tarmac Junior Rally champion Mogeely’s Cian Walsh (Toyota Corolla) was second in Class 5, he was co-driven by Kilkenny’s Eddie Doherty. Bandon resident Colin Fitzgerald and co-driver Ian McCarthy (Ford Escort) won Class 2.