Sport and tourism integrate this weekend as a new season of the Triton Showers National Rally Championship gets under way on Sunday next with the Óstán Oileán Acla/Connacht Print and Signs Mayo Rally.
The event also opens proceedings in the Sligo Pallets Border Rally Championships. The rally organisers have attracted entries from 32 counties where the competitors will traverse a loop of three stages, repeated three times, to decide the outcome of the overall and class awards.
Four former national rally champions are among the entrants, including Donegal’s Declan Boyle and Donagh Kelly along with Monaghan’s Niall Maguire and Tipperary’s Roy White, who share seven titles between them.
White (Ford Fiesta WRC ) is the most recent champion of the quartet, winning the Triton series two seasons ago; remarkably, he clinched the Vard Memorial Trophy without actually winning any of the events. Just a few weeks ago as a shakedown for this event White won the Nenagh Rally, where Kelly and Boyle were second and third respectively.
While that victory is likely to be a confidence booster for the Clonmel driver, he will be under no illusions as he is very aware that his rivals will have also benefitted from the seat time. Both White and Boyle (Ford Fiesta WRC ) are committed to a full Triton programme and each will endeavour to secure as many championship points as possible from this event.
Meanwhile, Kelly (Ford Focus WRC ) is using the event as a shakedown for his bid to win next week’s West Cork Rally in Clonakilty for an unprecedented fifth successive year. A winner of the 2015 series, Kelly will compete in the next round in Kerry before deciding whether to continue with a championship bid. Interestingly, it will be the first time for the trio to compete in Achill.
Maguire (Subaru WRC ) is a triple national champion, he won the Mayo Stages in 2015 and 2012, and he has been chasing that elusive fourth national crown since 2004.
Another former Mayo Stages winner Garry Jennings will compete in his Subaru WRC. A past Irish Tarmac champion, the Fermanagh man had an all too brief outing in Nenagh where he retired after just two stages.
An interesting entry is that of Derry driver Desi Henry in his recently acquired Ford Fiesta R5. How quickly he adapts to his new car remains to be seen and the picturesque stages in Achill could provide part if not all of the answer.
Last year’s rally winner, Donegal’s Joe McGonigle, will campaign a Mini WRC as opposed to the Skoda Fabia R5 he drove to success last year. He too is on the trail of the Triton series for the season ahead.
In Group N, Motorsport Safety Triton Showers champion Monaghan’s Shane Maguire (Mitsubishi ) will battle with former champion Tyrone’s Aidan Wray (Mitsubishi EvoIX ) and Maynooth’s Paul Barrett (Subaru ).
Elsewhere, the Modified section features entries from Tyrone’s Adrian Hetherington (Escort ), former Billy Coleman award winner Donegal’s Stuart Darcy (Darrian ), Carlow’s David Condell (Escort ), Monaghan’s Mickey Conlon (Escort ), who won the category in last year’s Triton series, and Donegal’s Michael Boyle (Honda Civic ).
Scotland’s Lee Hastings (Subaru ), a class winner in last year’s Triton National Rally Championship, is also competing, as is Limerick’s Eamonn Daly (Mitsubishi ) and Derry’s Niall Henry (Mitsubishi )
In the Junior section Shrule’s Noel Murphy (Honda Civic ) is the top local entry, and he will face stern opposition from Monaghan’s Jonny Treanor (Honda Civic ) and Armagh’s Jason Black (Toyota Starlet ).
A number of Mayo drivers are competing on the event with Achill’s Peter McManamon (Peugeot 205 ) and Brian Lavelle (Honda Civic ) hoping to make a good impression in front of their local followers. Others such as Belcarra’s Barry Cuffe (Escort ) and Colm O’Connor (Toyota Corolla ); Crossmolina’s Stephen Gallagher, John Duffy, and Stephen Gallagher, all in Honda Civics; Castlebar’s Gordon Nimmo (Ford Fiesta ); Ballina’s Tony Langdon (Honda Integra ); and Bonniconlon’s Trisha Greavey (Honda Civic ) add to the interest.