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Jennings withdraws from West Cork amid RHD R5 let-down

Garry Jennings has pulled out of this weekend’s West Cork Rally, the second round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.

The 2013 Irish Tarmac Champion hoped to drive his right-hand-drive Ford Fiesta R5 in West Cork but opted to withdraw his entry as his car remains ineligible to compete in the international rally.

Of course, this is nothing new. Right-hand-drive R5s that have been modified outside their homologation have never been able to run in Ireland’s international section of rallies.

But Jennings, and several other drivers, were under the impression a rule change would be implemented at the start of 2022 to allow them to compete alongside their left-hand-drive equivalents.

“As far as we were concerned, after Galway we were to be included in the main field again,” explained Jennings. “That’s why we went to Galway.

“To be fair before we put our entry in for Galway, we were told we would be included in the rally and then when we got there all of a sudden we were in a class of our own.

“I was told by several people that it was sorted and I have messages on my phone saying it was sorted but last week seemingly it changed again.

“So right-hand-drive cars cannot run in the international or national field but just in a class of their own.”

Jennings registered for the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship under the impression a regulation change was ready to be implemented. Over a month later and two rounds into the championship, he understandably feels like he has been led up the garden path.

The long-time advocate of right-hand-drive R5s was keen to point out it was an issue outside the control of Irish Tarmac organisers. ITRC’s regulations allow right-hand-drive R5s to score overall championship points but due to regulations, Jennings is still unable to compete for overall rally honours.

“We were close to finishing on the podium in Galway,” continued Jennings, “but we wouldn’t have been on the podium because we aren’t recognised.

“We are spending the same money, paying the same entry fees, paying the same championship registration fees but we aren’t running in any rally.

“It’s not the championship’s fault but you don’t get any TV, radio, or press coverage because you aren’t in the main rally.

“How can I ask sponsors for money to go to a rally when I am getting no recognition? It is only a matter of time before it falls on its face.

“If I had known this last week, I could be going to West Cork in my World Rally Car. No problem, I could have taken my 2006 Subaru Impreza to West Cork to compete for overall honours.

“I went to Galway because I was promised it would be sorted. I bit the bullet, kept my mouth shut, did the rally with the promise of it being sorted for West Cork and here we are back where we were two years ago.

“My team, my car, everything is sitting ready to go but we had to make a decision on Monday night to shelve it.”

It’s important to point out that Jennings is not alone in this battle. Tim McNulty’s right-hand-drive Ford Fiesta Rally2 is missing from West Cork after competing in Galway.

Aaron and Gareth MacHale invested in two Volkswagen Polo R5s with the hope of converting them to right-hand-drive for Irish Tarmac action this year.

They want to take them to Killarney’s Rally of the Lakes at the end of April but now fear it mightn’t happen as things continue to drag out.

Aaron MacHale told Rally Insight he has right-hand-drive parts ordered and with the conversion process set to start next week, he now feels left in the lurch.

“We’ve had meetings about R5s since 2016 with different assurances,” explained Aaron MacHale. “In 2017 I committed to using a left-hand-drive Citroen DS3 R5.

“I did five rallies and crashed in three of them. With my work, I cannot drive a left-hand-drive car, it’s impossible.

“I gave it a go for rallying but it is too dangerous, the proof is there for me.

“There has been an FIA regulation in place since 2020 that, from my understanding, allows right-hand-drive R5s to take part in an international rally as long as the licence holder is from that ASN.

“We contacted Motorsport Ireland representatives about that and were given assurances that it could be done. All the feedback was that it would be done for Galway, and then West Cork.

“We were told it would be taken care of and now with no communication or anything we are discovering that it isn’t happening.

“The right-hand-drive cars can do the rally [in their own class], so there should be no problem with scrutineering.

“We can also be included in the main field of national rallies, so it isn’t because of a technical reason then. For us though, the cars are too valuable to only be allowed to do national rallies.”

There are several crews with right-hand-drive cars waiting on this regulation change to allow them to compete at the front-end of Irish rallying.

I’m not here to argue left-hand versus right-hand-drive. Based on what Jennings and the MacHales have been told, that is no longer the problem.

They simply want the people who promised this change to deliver the goods. With the chance to see them in West Cork now gone, Killarney is the next milestone date for implementation.

Miss that, and the MacHales will be left wondering what to do with their pair of Polos.

The Donegal International Rally isn’t far away either and for once Jennings is hoping he doesn’t have to take a World Rally Car to Letterkenny.

All these guys know, however, if things continue to slip it won’t be long until they have missed another season of rallying in Ireland. After all, July’s Cork 20 is Motorsport Ireland’s last international rally of the year.

“I cannot understand what is causing the delay,” added Aaron MacHale. “After speaking to different people this week, they are saying: ‘Yes, we can get it done but we just have to tweak our rules and it will take a year.’

“Can we not run in the main field pending a review towards the end of the year?

“That would let us finish in the results now but still give them time to do whatever they need to do.

“But we are still in the dark. I have tried to call representatives this week but haven’t been given an answer.”

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Photos by Adam Hall and Ruaidhri Nash

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