Homologated stars shine through West Cork’s rapid modifieds

If you could ever propose a downside to Ireland’s unrivalled modified strength it would be how it makes life difficult for homologated crews to show their pacey performances.

The on-the-limit driving of the Class 13 and 14 leaders is breathtaking. Rear-wheel-drive with overpowering speed is a mix that naturally steals many a show.

There were two homologated crews on the West Cork Rally, however, that broke that mould and grabbed everyone’s attention.

William Creighton and Eamonn Kelly were star performers in the 2021 British Rally Championship. Their Junior BRC duel went down to a title decider on the Ulster Rally.

They started this year’s West Cork Rally in different cars, Creighton debuting a Ford Fiesta Rally3 in Ireland while Kelly continued in his Rally4 variant.

Kelly and co-driver Conor Mohan won West Cork’s Rally4 category by an astonishing seven minutes and 43 seconds. The young duo finished half of West Cork’s stages 20 seconds quicker than any of their class rivals, winning all 14 stages.

Their dominance was as clear in person as it was on paper. The commitment was apparent stage-side and my thoughts were confirmed when I approached Monaghan’s Mohan on Saturday evening’s Parc Ferme.

Mohan knew Kelly’s driving was at a new level. After sampling his Father’s Volkswagen Polo R5 two weeks earlier, Kelly was back in his front-wheel-drive Fiesta and driving the wheels off it.

Confidence was clearly growing and on West Cork’s final 19-kilometre stage, Ballinascarthy, Kelly went 11th-fastest overall. The only two-wheel-drive competitors to go faster were Class 14’s Rob Duggan and Daniel McKenna.

Kelly and Mohan went surprisingly well in BRC last year. If West Cork was anything to go by, they are ready to take it by storm in 2022.

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Another pair of homologated heroes last weekend were William Creighton and Liam Regan. They brought the Rally3 Fiesta to Clonakilty in a bid to sample more asphalt roads ahead of their next World Rally Championship outing in Croatia.

Like Kelly, Creighton’s commitment was clear to be seen. His times backed it up, never outside the top ten stage times on Sunday and finally clinched ninth overall on a rally with over 20 Rally2 starters.

“It didn’t take too long to get up to speed,” reflected the 24-year-old. “I think coming from Rally Sweden’s fast stages was a big reason for being able to set some good times in West Cork.

“The stages were so fast and it was important to commit to your pacenotes and carry quite a lot of speed. I think how my pacenotes have evolved in the past year competing in Junior WRC is a big thing for me.”

Not only was Creighton’s speed an indication of the Northern Irish crew’s recent development but also a sign of how adaptable the Rally3 car was to a completely new surface.

Rarely does a new car arrive on Irish tarmac and hit the ground running without hitch.

“It’s as nimble as a Rally4 car on technical sections,” explained Creighton. “But it also has a lot of mechanical grip and feels stable on the high-speed sections.

“We were able to get closer to Rally2 on more technical stages whereas on the faster stages you felt the power disadvantage more.

“As an all-round package it felt good and I don’t think there was anywhere it wasn’t working.

“It is easier to step in and drive a Rally3 on its limit compared to Rally2.

“You can be a lot more aggressive driving a Rally3 car. You don’t have to be as progressive with the throttle, you can put the foot to the floor out of most junctions.”

And put his foot to the floor is exactly what he did. As I said at the start it is difficult to stand out among one of the finest modified entries Irish rallying has ever witnessed.

The fact that Kelly and Creighton were able to do that in West Cork is a huge credit to their progression and hopefully an indication of future successes in 2022.

Photos courtesy of Ruaidhri Nash and Roger Dawson