The modified sections of rallies in Ireland have thrived so far in 2022. Seconds have separated lead two-wheel-drive battles on both Irish Tarmac and National Rally Championship rounds.
Leading Toyota Corolla contender Kevin Eves believes Motorsport Ireland’s shake-up of events has been influential in the constant high level of competition.
Ireland’s first rally calendar after a coronavirus enforced break featured fewer events overall as national and mini-stage format rallies now occur every other year.
Motorsport Ireland enforced the change to a 24-month schedule to help reduce organisational pressure while maximising entries for each event.
Eves, who is a two-time Irish Tarmac and National Modified Champion, has enjoyed intense battles with Gary Kiernan, Rob Duggan, Jason Black, and Daniel McKenna already this year.
“There is more achievement in a top result now,” confirmed Eves. “Motorsport Ireland’s reduced calendar has been great because most rallies have an entry we only used to see in Donegal.
“The pace on these rallies like West Cork, it’s a big, big push. The competition is there on every rally.
“In previous years, if you went to all the national rounds and did the Tarmac Championship there were always some rounds that you went to, got through, and went home without any having any big battles.
“The way the events are structured now, all the lads are out ready to race on each rally that you go to. It just elevates the pace and it means you won’t win unless you go proper fast.”
The 30-year-old was fastest out of the blocks this year on the Galway International Rally. He held a 19-seconds lead over Black’s Toyota Starlet before sliding into a pillar on Galway’s fifth stage.
Eves, and co-driver Chris Melly, were comfortably inside ITRC’s top ten overall before their mishap. They were hoping to repeat that feat in West Cork but a broken manifold forced them to retire at the start of the final day.
“Sometimes you have to commit a bit more just to get that little bit more out of a stage time,” explained Eves. “I’ve noticed that I have a habit of coming into a junction on the limit, trailing the car down into it, almost overdriving. It feels really quick in the car but being clean, braking smoothly, and carrying speed is a lot more efficient time-wise.
“It’s not a case of being boring but it’s more about carrying your speed. Definitely, though, we need to be working more now to get a top result. Pacenotes are critical and both Chris and I are putting a lot more work into them to allow us to push hard from the very start of the rally”
The Pettigo driver finally broke his streak of non-finishes in 2022 by taking a commanding modified victory on the Birr Stages Rally. Eves and Melly finished 40 seconds ahead of their nearest two-wheel-drive rival, reiterating the pace they have with the Corolla.
“Ryan Loughran has done a lot of development work on the car and we are still chipping away at stuff.
“Even small things like finding a better seating position that means I won’t rest my foot on the brake pedal and overheat the brakes.
“We made anti-roll bars for West Cork but we couldn’t seem to figure it out. We tried to play with the suspension to make it work and it didn’t really cost any time in West Cork because of the dry conditions.
“It was a bit understeery in slow stuff but we have it all sorted again now.”
Eves hasn’t given up on the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, even though he is yet to score a point this season. Killarney’s Rally of the Lakes is his next plan of attack and it ties into his next ambition – he wants to challenge his rivals who have a firm grip on their local events.
“The speed is good but I still have a bit to do to catch boys like Rob Duggan and Colin O’Donoghue in their own backyard.
“I want to see myself putting them under more pressure than we have been. I am happy in the car, the pace is good but I can see where it can still improve.
“We have a very good wet set-up, the car handles well and has a lot of traction.
“In high-speed stuff, we are still doing a bit with anti-roll bars.”
With renewed competition, Eves has plenty of motivation as he travels south to County Kerry this week. Eves will tackle Carlow Stages Rally after Killarney and then he’ll be eyeing up the big one in June.
“The real goal is going to Donegal and being fast.
“Hopefully, we can peak in Donegal.”
Photos by Roger Dawson and Adam Hall