[vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]This weekend’s Fel’s Point Circuit of Kerry has attracted a top class entry.
Over 130 cars are set to contest the nine-stage Tralee based event, boasting one of the strongest entries seen on a round of the Dunlop National Rally Championship since the halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger.
Close on 15 World Rally Cars, or equivalent, will set out from the Fel’s Point Hotel in the Kerry capital on Sunday morning ahead of nearly 140km of competitive action in the Brosna, Castleisland and Lyrecrompane areas of the county. There is also a very strong modified car entry with some of Ireland’s top Ford Escort Mk2 exponents on the entry list.
The Fel’s Point Hotel Circuit of Kerry is the second round of both the Dunlop Irish National and Top Part West Coast championships and the top seeds are, in fact, the overall winners of the opening rounds of each series.
Defending national champion, Donegal man Declan Boyle, leads the field in the same Subaru Impreza World Rally Car that he drove to victory on last month’s Mayo Stages Rally, the opening round of the Dunlop series.
Welsh visitor, Hugh Hunter, a former British Trials and Rally Drivers Association champion across the Irish Sea, starts at two. The Impreza WRC driver is contesting the full Irish series for the first time but has already won several Irish events , including the Abbeyleix Stages, the opening round of the Top Part series in February.
Add in the likes of former Irish national champion Niall Maguire, Irish Tarmac champion Kenny McKinstry and Group N champion Roy White and the destination of top points in either series at the end of Sunday’s rally is anyone’s guess. Adding to the equation is the appearance of two Ford Fiesta World Rally Cars in the hands of former Rally of the Lakes winner Darragh O’Riordan and former Donegal International Rally winner Sam Moffett.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_tabs interval=”0″][vc_tab title=”International Flavour” tab_id=”1396681579-1-81″][vc_column_text]The rally has benefited from its close proximity to the Circuit of Ireland Rally at Easter too.
The Belfast-based rally is a counting round of the FIA European Rally Championship this year and two drivers have elected to use Kerry as high-speed shakedown ahead of the international rally later in the month.
Waterford’s Craig Breen, a factory driver with the Peugeot Academy squad in France leads the European charge in the brand new Peugeot 208 T16. Breen got his hands on the car for the first time last weekend on the Acropolis Rally in Greece where he gave the car its first-ever victory.
The Peugeot Academy team come straight from Greece to Kerry to mark the car’s third-ever appearance on a rally anywhere in the world.
A second French Team, Delta Rally, will field former European Production Champion Robert Consani, in a Peugeot 207 Super 2000 and like Peugeot come direct from last weekend’s Acropolis Rally in Greece to Tralee.
Aside from Hunter, the rally has attracted a second Welsh driver in the shape of Steve Wood who will drive the same Impreza WRC that Darren Gass used to win the Circuit of Kerry three years ago.
Another driver making a roundabout trip to Kerry is former Top Part Champion Frank Kelly. The Tyrone driver brings his newly built Ford Escort to Tralee but, having sold his older car to a Trinidadian driver recently, took up the offer to contest Rally Trinidad at the weekend.
Irish emigrants to the UK make up a portion of the entry list too with Birmingham-based Listowal man Joachim Buckley making his first appearance in his home rally since 2008. London-based Sligo man Anthony O’Brien has also placed an entry in his Mitsubishi Lancer E9.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_tab][vc_tab title=”Modified” tab_id=”1396681579-2-3″][vc_column_text]The modified section of the rally is always one of the mostly keenly fought and a firm favourite with the 1000s of fans who will line the route.
Leading this section is Wexford man James Stafford in his ultra-quick Darrian T90.
His chief opposition will come from the aforementioned Kelly and a brace of local drivers including former West Coast Champions Mick Quinn ( the winner of last November’s Kerry Winter Rally) and Shanagolden’s Ed Syan. Add in the likes of other Kerry crews like Fergus O’Meara, Charlie Hickey and Ed Murphy and Limerick drivers Paul Purtil and Edward O’Callaghan all in Ford Escort Mk2s, makes it impossible to predict the outcome of the this section of the rally.[/vc_column_text][/vc_tab][vc_tab title=”Group N” tab_id=”1396681744516-2-8″][vc_column_text]Local ace, and of course, former Top Part West Coast Champion Alan Ring leads the Production car category in his Subaru Impreza. His principle competition should come from French visitor Robert Consani but it will depend on how quickly he adjusts to the undulating Kerry roads. Shane Maguire, another former West Coast champ, in his Impreza will also be in the mix.[/vc_column_text][/vc_tab][vc_tab title=”Local Crews” tab_id=”1396681769677-3-7″][vc_column_text]Kerry-based crews to look out for include Kilflynn’s Tom Relihan and Lisselton’s Pat Barry in their Ford Escorts. Current Dunlop National Junior champion Rob Duggan has stepped up to the main field this year and is the top seed in the 1600cc front-wheel-drive class. The Killarney driver will compete against Tralee’s Darren Young who is the National Championship’s category leader after last month’s Mayo Stages. Ballybunion’s Jason Costelloe makes a return after a hefty shunt on last November’s Banna Beach Resort Kerry Winter Rally.
Current West Coast Historic Rally champion PJ Dowd is another to step up the national league this season and he starts his home event as national and West Coast leader in his replica Colin McRae Talbot Sunbeam.[/vc_column_text][/vc_tab][/vc_tabs][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Local support
Events of this magnitude could not take place without the support of local business.
The Fel’s Point Hotel return for a seventh year as title sponsor and played a key role in bringing the Peugeot Factory team to Kerry.
The nine-stage rally is run over a loop three stages, run three times, with each of the individual stages afforded naming rights this year. Stage one is sponsored by Ahern’s Opel dealership in Castleisland, which will also host the annual Vauxhall/Opel owners club Kerry gathering on the eve of the rally. Ahern’s BMW division supports stage three while local automotive tuning and aftermarket supplier West Coast Tuning are the sponsors of stage two. Tralee Chamber Alliance has supported the event too as sponsor of the service park at the Fel’s Point Hotel.
Visiting international crews have received additional help from the Banna Beach Hotel and TLI in Abbeydorney.
The rally gets underway with a ceremonial start at the Fel’s Point Hotel at 9.05 on Sunday morning. Ahead of the 130-plus crews lie nine of the most demanding stages County Kerry has to offer.
The Aherns BMW – Stage 1, near Brosna, gets under way at 9.57, followed by SS2, West Coast Performance – Stage 2, at 10.35 and Aherns OPEL – Stage 3, at 11.13.
The first car is due back at the Tralee Chamber Alliance Service Park at the Fel’s Point Hotel at 11.43. This loop is repeated twice more ahead of the finish ramp celebrations at the Fel’s Point Hotel at around 1700hrs. Full route details, including map and time table will be published in the event’s official programme which will be on sale throughout the town and county in the run up to the rally.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]