May. That is the last time that Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan have been matched let alone beaten in the National Rally Championship.
Despite their unbelievable run of form, the Volkswagen Polo R5 pairing is still playing catch-up to defending champions Josh Moffett and Keith Moriarty. Moffett holds a 20-point advantage in the eight-round asphalt series but that cushion dissipates to a single point when dropped scores are considered.
It has been a while since anyone has threatened Moffett’s single-day mastery in Ireland but a dazzling Devine has been Ireland’s benchmark since winning the Circuit of Ireland at the start of April.
Meanwhile, Moffett has been fighting to find his Rally2 sweet spot since ending a successful stint aboard that ever-sideways Hyundai i20 R5 in June. The 2022 Irish Tarmac and National Rally Champion has set fastest times in the dry but Ireland’s notorious slippery conditions have proved a challenge to get a grip of in the Rally2 i20.
A rainy summer has given Moffett his fair share of wet roads to sample and he’ll hope that experience will aid his chances of beating Devine should the weather head south this Sunday.
Seeded third, Desi Henry is more than capable of making it a three-way fight for victory in Clare. After recording seven rally wins last year, successes have been surprisingly sparse for the Portglenone pilot in 2023. He is still on the pace, though, a runner-up finish on the ALMC Stages Rally proved that.
Wexford Stages Rally winner Daniel Cronin joins Gareth McHale, Declan and Michael Boyle in the running for matching Clare’s front-end challengers.
Kevin Gallagher and Ryan Moore lead the way in modifieds with Gary McPhillips and John Bonner amongst the leading two-wheel-drive contenders.
As ever, Class 2 is set to thrill with another blockbuster entry of eager Rally4 protagonists. Ryan McHugh, Cian Caldwell, Keelan Grogan, and Casey Jay Coleman all feature with Craig Rahill joining the pack after switching from his Class 11R Ford Escort to a Ford Fiesta Rally4.
Caldwell is in pole position to seal the 2023 Motorsport Ireland Junior Rally Series title this Sunday. A second-place finish on its final round would be enough for him to secure the crown. Keeping the pressure on frontrunner Caldwell is Dylan Eves who would snatch the title if he tops the pile in Clare and Caldwell finishes third or lower.
The 2023 MIJRS champion will receive a training and coaching package worth 15,000 euros as well as a Billy Coleman Award nomination.
Stage preview by Onthepacenote’s Killian Duffy:
Glen Colmcille (10.4 km) – SS1/4/7
The opening seven kilometres of Clare’s first stage are very fast. From the seven-kilometre marker to near the finishing line is twisty and narrow.
There is another really committed sequence of corners that is really narrow as well. Crews will arrive at this section at high speed and it will demand proper precision driving. It is going to be an interesting opener.
Dick’s Hill (13.6 km) – SS2/5/8
Continuing on from Glen Colmcille, the first seven kilometres of Dick’s Hill are twisty, keeping driver and co-driver busy inside their rally cars. It should be quite enjoyable actually as there is a nice flow to this section.
The second half of the near-14 kilometre stage is really committed with a few unseen bends. These corners could easily lure in an unexpecting driver and are definitely ones to watch out for.
Morgan’s Bridge (12.6 km) – SS3/6/9
Clare’s finale starts at a high pace with several shiny patches ready to challenge its competitors.
Like Dick’s Hill, there are plenty of corners that could spoil a promising run just before the safety of service.
Photos by Gavin Woods and Cian Donnellan