The 2010 rally season kicks off in earnest this weekend with the Safety Direct Galway International Rally, the opening round of the Citroen Tarmac Rally Championship. The traditional season-opener has received a near capacity entry, and promises plenty of exciting action over the two day event. The recent announcement that Citroen is to be the title sponsor of the Tarmac Championship for 2010 is a major boost for Ireland’s popular international rally series. The French car manufacturer is synonymous with rallying at world level, and currently holds the FIA World Rally Championship title for manufacturers, while Citroen driver Sebastian Loeb has won the driver’s title for the past six years. Based in Oranmore, the Safety Direct Galway International Rally will get under way with a ceremonial start in the village on Friday evening, before competitors tackle nine stages on Saturday followed by another six stages on Sunday.
Number one seed Gareth MacHale in his Ford Focus World Rally Car returns for another tilt at the Tarmac Championship title, having finished runner up last year. The Dubliner will face stiff competition from fellow championship regular Tim McNulty in a Subaru WRC, but both men will be keeping a close eye on the stage times of car number three — that of reigning British Rally Champion Keith Cronin. The Corkman has the disadvantage of competing in a Group N showroom class Mitsubishi, but if he carries through the pace that brought him to the British title last year, he will almost certainly be in contention for overall honours.
At four is the leading Mayo and District Motorsport Club competitor Aaron MacHale who wheels out his trusty Focus WRC, while National Rally Champion Patrick Elliott and fellow national regular Kevin Barrett will be ready to pounce if the leading runners slip up. There will also be much interest in car number nine, the new Ford Fiesta S2000 of Craig Breen. This car, on which Ford’s world rally championship contender from 2011 will be based, recently won the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally on its debut event. Galway marks its first competitive appearance on Irish soil in the hands of the exciting young Kilkenny driver.
The Galway International Rally also plays host to a number of one-make championships, of which one in particular has significant local interest. The new Citroen Racing Trophy is open to competitors using Citroen C2 R2 and C2 R2 Max rally cars. Aimed at unearthing young driving talent, it offers the largest prize fund of any rally championship in the country, and includes two Mayo drivers among those who will be vying for glory. Shane Buckley from Ballyhaunis had a successful season last year competing in Ford’s Fiesta Sport Trophy one-make series. Starting at number 87 in Galway in a C2 R2 he will hope to use his experience to good effect this year. Young Aughagower man David Carney seeded at 89 has fewer rallying miles under his belt than his fellow Mayo man, and with a new C2 R2 Max at his disposal, will be hoping primarily to bring the car home safely. With Citroen also sponsoring the overall championship, the series is sure to attract plenty of high-profile interest. And while it may be a world away, the fact that World Champion Sebastian Loeb started his career in equivalent Citroen rally cars is without doubt something of which all the competitors will be fully aware.
Other local competitors hoping for a successful rally include James Culliney from Bekan and his Killala co-driver Michael Loughney who compete at number 82 in Culliney’s Escort Mark 2. At number 106 Williamstown’s John McGeehan and Seamus Coffey from Claremorris are in a Subaru Impreza 555, while two Mayo co-drivers are taking part in the Fiesta Sport Trophy one-make series. Paul McGee from Carrowmore-Lacken navigates Monaghan’s Stephen Wright in the number one seeded FST1, and Anthony Concannon from Westport is in the passenger seat of FST5 driven by Colm O’Keefe.