The 2016 Corrib Oil Galway International Rally marked the introduction of the R5 category of cars as the main vehicles in the Irish Tarmac Championship.
And, in this first round of the national championship, Fermanagh man Garry Jennings and navigator Rory Kennedy in a Subaru Impreza WRC took their first Galway International Rally win after a faultless drive.
Monsoon-like conditions greeted the drivers over the weekend, but it did not dampen the spirits of winner Garry Jennings who said he was “delighted to take the victory after a very challenging event”.
Jennings led from start to finish, and by the final stage, it was just a case of managing the lead. He crossed the finish line with a three minute 25 second advantage for a victory he desperately wanted, having exited the rally for the last two years while vying for the lead.
“We have been trying to win the Galway rally for while," he said. "We have come close on a number of occasions, but to finally win and in Galway is just excellent.”
Keith Cronin produced a great drive to finish second in his Citroen DS3 R5, just 16.5 seconds ahead of Alastair Fisher after 190 kilometers of rallying.
Jennings was fastest out of the blocks on Saturday morning with the 17.1km Corbally Beg stage just outside Portumna. He set a time 6.8 seconds quicker than his main World Rally Car rival Declan Boyle, and next was Tim McNulty making his return to rallying after five years. Unfortunately it was to be short lived as he crashed midway through the first stage, which meant the next six cars received a nominal time. Desi Henry was the first driver to get a clean run over the stage following the McNulty accident, and he set third fastest in his new Skoda Fabia R5.
Jennings continued his scintillating pace over stages two and three to hold a 21.4 second lead over Boyle at first service, with Henry was a further 47.9 seconds back.
Although Declan Boyle began his fight back after service, and was a mere .4 of a second quicker on stage four, Jennings replied on the next stage, taking nearly nine seconds out of Boyle.
When Declan Boyle's rally ended in a Galway ditch on stage six, Jennings enjoyed a clear lead, but behind him a ding-dong battle ensued for the rest of the event between Alastair Fisher, who climbed into second overall, and Keith Cronin.
Jennings finished the day with a two minute 27 second advantage, while Keith Cronin leap-frogged Alastair Fisher into second, with only 2.4 seconds between them.
Come Sunday and Garry Jennings stamped his authority on the event when he took the fastest time over the infamous Kilnadeema stage. By the morning service in Gort, his lead was two minutes 34 seconds, but behind him was the real battle with Keith Cronin, Alastair Fisher, Sam Moffett and Desi Henry all separated by 26 seconds with four stages remaining.
Henry was the first to falter, crashing out on the repeat of the Kilnadeema stage, while Cronin went on to set a blistering time on the 19.6km stage, a full 13 seconds quicker than Fisher and Moffett. Cronin continued his form on the Lough Cutra stage, taking 10 seconds out of his rivals, which meant going into the next stage Fisher was 29.6 seconds back from Cronin, with Moffett another 19.2 adrift.
On the penultimate stage Sam Moffett overshot a junction and stalled the Ford Fiesta R5, losing some 30 seconds to his rivals but still holding fourth place overall, while Fisher reduced the gap on Cronin to 18.7 going into the final stage.
Fisher tried his best to rein in Cronin, but he could only close the gap to 16.8 seconds by the finish line. Sam Moffett held onto fourth overall, just ahead of Tipperary man Roy White at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta WRC. Moffett's brother Josh, in another Fiesta R5, finished in sixth, with Joseph McGonigles Skoda Fabia S2000 in seventh. Only two seconds behind was Jonathan Greer in his Citroen DS3 R5, with Stephen Wright claiming ninth, and David Guest winning Group N in his Mitsubishi to round out the top 10.
Local interest was upheld by Richard and James Whelan, who brought their Citroen DS3 R3 home in 16th overall in the international event - a great result for the Galway pair who are still gaining experience in their new car. Sister Sarah was overnight leader of the National Rally, navigating for Eugene Meegan. However they were caught out on a muddy section of the Kilnadeema stage and were forced to retire. This meant Wesley Patterson won the National Rally in his Ford Escort, followed by Galway's Tom Flaherty and Patrick Curly who also won the Brian G Thornton Memorial Trophy for the highest placed Galway Motor Club crew. Another local crew to have an outstanding drive were Ray Cunningham and Adrian Cusack who won the historic rally by nearly three minutes in a Mini Cooper.
Clerk of the Course Kieran Donohue from Headford was delighted with the turnout of both of drivers and spectators.
“It was wonderful to have so many competitors travel from all over the globe to compete, and it was also incredible to see the amount of spectators out on the stages in such bad conditions," he said.
"Numbers were well up on last year and that is mainly thanks to our sponsors Corrib Oil who team put in a huge effort to promote the event."