Aaron and Gareth bring MacHale name back to Irish rallying

It is hard to believe 12 years have passed since Gareth MacHale became the first and only son of an Irish Tarmac Rally Champion to clinch the title for himself. Aaron MacHale did what his Father Austin didn’t three years earlier by winning the National Rally Championship.

Both Aaron and Gareth were key factors in Ireland’s fondly remembered World Rally Car era. And now they are back.

The brothers are set to tackle this weekend’s Tyrone Stages and Circuit of Munster rallies. They will debut a pair of recently converted right-hand-drive Volkswagen Polo R5s prepared by Ronan O’Kane Motorsport.

Tyrone will be Gareth’s first rally since 2018. MacHale did the Clare Stages Rally and the Donegal Harvest, his only competition since Galway 2012. His last event before that was the Cork 20 Rally in 2010, the final of three international wins that crowned him Irish Tarmac Champion aboard that iconic Ford Focus WRC.

“I haven’t done a full championship since,” Gareth MacHale told Rally Insight. “It is a long time out but I’m looking forward to getting back in.

“The opportunity came up to buy the two Polos so I suppose I am just going to do a few rallies this year to see if the bug is still there.

“If it is, then we’ll go on from there.

“I have been out of it for a long time, life has moved on. I have different priorities now in life and rallying is more a bit of fun.

“Rallying has always been there, though. Anybody that is involved in motorsport knows that once it’s in your blood it’s in there to stay. It is very hard to shake it off.”

The MacHales’ main goal is making the Donegal International Rally. A visit to Cork 20 is expected afterwards along with the potential of some more national events to get up to speed for 2023.

With their Polos being prepared in the middle of a busy rally season, Aaron and Gareth have yet to turn a wheel in their new R5s. They hope to test ahead of Tyrone but Gareth admitted their first rallies will be test sessions themselves.

“There is an awful lot to get your head up to speed with.

“Then to learn the car, the notes, everything like that; doing rallies is the best way instead of spending days testing and just learning a piece of road. That doesn’t get you into where you need to be on a rally.

“Pacenotes are still called to how you see the corners but the actual speed that an R5 car can carry through the corners will be different.

“I want to get ourselves up to a point of driving to what the car is capable of. That’s where it comes down to your notes and getting them to suit the corner speed of the car.

“It is going to take time, I know that. The pace that the lads are at in Irish rallying is second to none and I’m under no illusions as to the pace that is at the top.”

As for Aaron, he has a bit of a head-start with knowledge of Citroen and Hyundai R5s as well as Skoda’s S2000 Fabia. But, barring a sole outing in 2019, it has been five years since Aaron rallied in anger.

The Citroen DS3 Aaron manned in 2017 was left-hand-drive. He knows that wasn’t suited to him and he is excited to see what he can do behind the wheel of a right-hand-drive car.

“I’m just looking forward to having a spin in the car to see how it feels,” Aaron explained. “There is a bit of getting used to these R5s and I know the Polo seems to be the best car at the moment but there will be a bit of setting up needed to get it right.

“Tyrone will probably be a bit more like Donegal but it will be good to sample two different terrains to get used to the car. It’s just a case of shutting everything out and getting two clean runs to get used to its handling and characteristics.

“Gareth and I have never really rallied together before.

“We always crisscrossed, Gareth did the British and World Rally Championship while I was doing the National here. It was probably just 2009 and 2010 when we did the same rallies.

“It is good that the two of us are back out. We’re in the same cars now so there will be no excuses.”

Derek Brannigan will co-drive for Aaron this weekend, their first event together since 2007. World Rally Championship experienced navigator Keaton Williams is expected to step in for Donegal.

Meanwhile, Gareth will have a familiar face beside him as he ventures back into the world of rallying. Brian Murphy won ITRC for a third time with MacHale back in 2010, his previous two honours coming alongside Austin.

For the MacHale brothers, only time will tell how they adapt to the top-end of Ireland’s pacey R5 elite. One thing we can say with certainty, it is great to have their names, characters, and personalities back at the forefront of Irish rallying again.

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Photos by Kevin Glendinning and Adam Hall