Cronin wins Moonraker Rally ahead of support class drama

Keith Cronin and Mike Galvin secured a 43.5-second victory on Saturday’s Moonraker Forestry Rally, their first gravel outing in Ireland since 2017.

The Volkswagen Polo R5 duo led the event from Stage 3, winning all but one of Moonraker’s eight stages.

Paddy and Stephen O’Brien were the British Rally Championship leaders’ nearest rivals. O’Brien went fastest by 1.8 seconds on the Munster Car Club’s opening 5.2-kilometre test but hit trouble on the stage’s repeat running.

The Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver’s Skoda Fabia R5 had a soft tyre on Stage 3 and O’Brien consequently slid off the road, losing half a minute to stage-winner Cronin.

The incident dropped O’Brien from first to third and while he quickly regained second position from Niall McCullagh, the County Tyrone driver was unable to reassert any pressure on runaway leader Cronin.

O’Brien and McCullagh completed the Moonraker in second and third with championship leader Jordan Hone fighting back from seventh to fourth overall.

Mickey Conlon and Paul McPhillips won the two-wheel-drive category by 13.6 seconds over Ford Fiesta Rally4 driver Ryan Caldwell. Conlon was without his usual Ford Escort Mk2 rivals when they ran into trouble early on in the rally.

John Gordon and Ben Taggart were 13.1 seconds behind Conlon and McPhillips when a rear-wheel on their Mk2 Escort broke on Stage 3. The two-wheel-drive championship leaders had to stop and change the wheel, losing five minutes in the process.

Rear-wheel-drive pacesetter Conlon was kept on his toes by the younger front-wheel-drive pilots.

Kyle McBride, who is also a member of the MI Rally Driver Academy, held a 1.7-second Class 2 lead in his Fiesta R2T at Moonraker’s halfway point. The 19-year-old was less than 20 seconds behind two-wheel-drive leader Conlon.

Unfortunately for McBride and co-driver Darren Curran, their Fiesta’s driveshaft broke at the start-line of Stage 5. Despite the Donegal duo’s inspired repair, they ran out of time and had to finish the rally under super-rally regulations.

Brendan Cumiskey inherited Class 2’s top spot before trading places with Caldwell. Less than three seconds separated them over the remaining stages with the latter eventually taking front-wheel-drive honours by 1.2 seconds after 62 kilometres of rallying.

In the Junior 1000 rally, competed for by drivers under 19 years of age, Jack Brennan looked set to take his third rally win in a row.

The Skoda Citigo driver held a 50.9-second lead going into Moonraker’s final stage. The 13-kilometre decider threw a spanner in Brennan’s works as he picked up a puncture and slid into a ditch two kilometres from the end of the rally. The incident cost him four minutes and put him down in eighth.

Mossie Costello and Tom Murphy had been in second-position over Moonraker’s final three stages but inherited a surprise win after Brennan’s misfortune.

Tommy Moffett and 14-year-old Danny Brady finished second and third respectively, just over 30 seconds behind Costello.

Loughgall Stages Rally

Donegal’s Aaron McLaughlin usurped local ace Damian Toner to secure a 38-second success on the Loughgall Stages Rally.

Toner and Denver Rafferty set Loughgall’s early pace, winning the opening stage by 1.9 seconds in their 2.5-litre Ford Escort Mk2. McLaughlin and William Neill set the same time as Toner on Manor’s repeated pass before surging ahead of the rear-wheel-drive crew on its final run, Stage 3.

A summer rain shower cleared ahead of Stage 3 but with much of Loughgall’s asphalt surface under trees, any surface moisture made conditions quite slippery. A faultless McLaughlin went 11.7 seconds faster than five-time winner Toner to hold a 9.8-second lead after three of Loughgall’s six stages.

Toner responded with a fastest-time on the first pass of Drumilly but McLaughlin romped further ahead on its repeat.

The Ford Fiesta R5 pilot increased his advantage on the final stage to grab his first win of the year.

BMW driver Marty Toner completed the podium, 18 seconds behind his brother. Sam and Josh Moffett finished their first rally together since 2008 seventh overall. The Moffett brothers clearly enjoyed a less serious day of rallying in Sam’s Toyota Starlet.

Local favourites Jason and Gareth Black had a disastrous start to the rally. Both rear-wheel-drive Starlets broke their steering racks on the very first stage after clipping two different lorry tyres that lay on the inside of some corners.

Jason Black had completed most of the opening stage, one second off Toner’s stage-winning pace before he was stopped in his tracks.

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Photos by Cian Don and Adam Hall