Pace hots up for Sligo Stages Rally showdown

The fastest drivers to pound down Ireland’s unique closed-road stages will feature on July’s Sligo Stages Rally, round five of the 2023 National Rally Championship.

After their recent Ravens Rock Rally victory, Josh Moffett and Keith Moriarty hold a strong grasp on retaining their National Rally title. Moffett’s latest success came behind the wheel of his brother’s Hyundai i20 Rally2 and he’ll be sticking with the fresh Rally2 car for Sligo.

Monaghan’s consistent pacesetter faces familiar competition in Irish Tarmac Rally Championship leader Callum Devine who returns to the National Championship after skipping its last round in Waterford.

Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson will throw their caps into the mix, travelling from Wales to compete in Sligo for the first time.

Jonny Greer and Declan Boyle complete Sligo’s top five with a host of Rally2 regulars littering the Sligo Stages entry list.

Leading the way in two-wheel-drive, Kevin Gallagher and Ryan Moore could be hard to catch in their Darrian T90. Dessie Keenan, Gary McPhillips, and Chris Armstrong are just some of the Ford Escort pilots hoping to challenge.

Seeded 30th and 31st, Donagh Kelly and Marty McCormack will be crowd favourites as they look set to duel in two perfectly prepared BMW M3s.

Class 2 has been fantastic to follow so far in 2023. Rally4’s top three finished Ravens Rock 2.5 seconds apart and another top entry of front-wheel-drive future stars is heading to Sligo.

Ravens Rock’s Class 2 winner, Ryan McHugh is seeded 45th with Cian Caldwell, Keelan Grogan, Matthew Boyle, Dylan Eves, Shane Quinn, and Joseph Kelly all ready for battle behind.

Ballintogher (14.1 km), SS1/4/7

Sligo’s opening stage starts off really fast down from the start-line through a dirty little kink. It gets even faster after the succeeding chicane.

For a long stage, I wouldn’t say there are a vast number of corners to catch crews out – it is just a case of hanging on for dear life through the fast sections.

Lough Bo (11.1 km), SS2/5/8

This is a similar stage to one used five years ago so it could be familiar to some of the crews this weekend. It is a lovely stage and is quite a busy one too.

To put it into perspective, this 11-kilometre stage has the same amount of pacenote pages as the previous 14-kilometre test.

There are narrow, gravelly sections under trees as well so there is definitely time to be won or lost in it.

The brave will be rewarded here but there is the caveat of it being an unforgiving stage if you make a mistake.

Carrickbanagher (10.0 km), SS3/6/9

The characteristics of Sligo’s final stage are similar to that of Lough Bo. There is a lot of work in it with the addition of some fast sections as well.

The last 1.5 kilometres is really tricky. It is downhill with some incredibly challenging braking areas. It’s the shortest stage but it has a lot of pacenotes, it’s demanding on the driver and co-driver, and will provide a perfect finale to what I am sure will be another spectacular National Rally Championship event.

Photos by Gavin Woods

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