Locals come out to challenge Hirvonen on Wexford Stages Rally

World Rally Championship star, Mikko Hirvonen, will make his second Ford Escort Mk2 appearance in Ireland on this weekend’s Wexford Stages Rally. The Finnish ace won West Cork Rally’s modified category back in 2019 but will face stiff competition in Wexford.

Top seed and local Darrian ace James Stafford will set a tough two-wheel-drive benchmark for Hirvonen, who is seeded sixth.

Stafford finished fifth overall in Wexford last year, setting the fastest overall time on one of the six stages. Kevin Eves, Gary Kiernan, Declan Gallagher, and Galway Summer Rally’s modified pacesetter Richard Moffett add to an exciting array of Class 14 challengers.

Such is the standard of Ireland’s current two-wheel-drive crews, Wexford’s R5 contenders will have to be at their best if they want to claim the two-day rally’s overall honours.

Daniel Cronin led the R5 contingent on Wexford’s original entry list but has been forced to pull out after his Volkswagen Polo R5 suffered damage on last weekend’s Rali Ceredigion.

The Skoda Fabia R5 of Andrew Purcell and Andy Hayes will be many’s favourite to finish the 18-stage event on top of the timesheets. Purcell has been in fine form since returning to the driving seat on July’s Cork 20 International Rally.

A final-stage spin cost Purcell fourth in Cork, he bagged second on the Galway Summer Rally, and he’ll be aiming for first in Wexford.

Fresh from claiming the 2022 Irish Tarmac title with Josh Moffett, a Wexford win for Hayes would top off a dream year of rallying for the local co-driver.

Enda O’Brien’s Polo R5 will follow Purcell down Wexford’s opening stage. O’Brien has been building his four-wheel-drive experience this year with a sixth-place finish on the Cork 20.

Daniel Barry, Aidan Wray, Stephen McCann, and Jason McSweeney provide a well-balanced mix of R5 drivers capable of battling for a desirable overall win in Wexford.

Chris Armstrong, Patrick McHugh, Adrian Hetherington, Simon Reid, Richard Cleary, and David Condell add incredible depth to Wexford’s modified field. Richard Moore is one of many locals gunning for modified glory this weekend.

While Moffett was the modified pilot to beat in Galway at the end of August, Marty Toner showed what his BMW was capable of on the Ulster Rally earlier in the month. The Armagh driver is a dark horse in the category should he rekindle such form.

Around 150 crews will tackle Wexford’s 230-kilometre route. Three loops of three stages on both Saturday and Sunday will test the endurance of cars and crews – an itinerary that is a credit to Wexford Motor Club.

Further afield the Acropolis Rally Greece offers a fresh start for Craig Breen and Paul Nagle who have struggled to get a clean run on recent World Rally Championship events. The Irish crew will hope to stay out of trouble in their Ford Puma Rally1 on a gravel rally known for its tough terrain.

Jon Armstrong and Brian Hoy enter the Junior WRC’s final round locked in a four-way shootout for the tightly contested championship. They will tackle Greece’s 300 km route knowing the right balance of speed and wisdom is crucial to claiming the Junior WRC title and its career-changing prize package.

William Creighton and Liam Regan are aiming for their best Junior WRC result of the season in another M-Sport Poland prepared Ford Fiesta Rally3.

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Photos by Kevin O’Driscoll and Gavin Woods