Mike Quinn and Tony Healy will make their World Rally Car debut on next month’s Rose Hotel Circuit of Kerry Rally on April 7.
The defending Top Part West Coast Rally champion has been rallying for over 20 years and has done so exclusively in Ford Escorts. Prior to starting rallying, Quinn competed on local Hot Rod events in another Escort.
He has been given the opportunity to use a Subaru Impreza World Rally Car built initially by Prodrive for use by Petter Solberg on the 2005 World Championship counting Rally Japan and Rally Argentina events.
A few months after these rallies the car found its way to Ireland and won the 2006 Circuit of Kerry in the hands of Tim McNulty.
The County Meath driver went on the win the Rally of the Lakes the same year in the same car before it changed hands several times and won in Killarney for a second time with Cork driver Darragh O’Riordan at the wheel before being sold to Wales and used by rally car hire firm Melvyn Evans Motorsport.
The car’s last owner was Manchester-based Adrian Spencer who used it for club rallies in the North East of England with varying degrees of success.
The car is now owned by London-based Listowel man Ray Hillard who bought the car from Spencer earlier this year, and it arrived in Kerry in the last few weeks.
Hilliard, an engineer by trade, wanted to offer the car to another driver for its first Kerry outing so he could observe the various technologies in it from the outside. Hilliard will use the car for the first time on next month’s Rally of the Lakes.
For Quinn, a former winner of the Kerry Winter Rally, it presents his best chance yet to challenge for victory on the Circuit of Kerry.
Quinn unveiled the car for the first time at Saturday’s official launch of the Circuit of Kerry at the Rose Hotel.
Speaking exclusively to The Kerryman, he said: “I am very excited and looking forward to the rally. I have never driven a four-wheel-drive car, not even as a road car. The first time I drove the car was to take it off the trailer and drive it to the door of the hotel. I am hoping for a test before the rally. Ray is a good friend of mine, and I am delighted to be given a chance to drive it before he does – and show him how to drive it.”
The rally is round two of the locally sponsored Top Part West Coast Rally Championship.
Representing the championship at Saturday’s launch was series co-founder, Tralee man Richard Talbot. He said: “The championship started in 1993 when Top Part was known as Kingdom Motor Factors in Rock Street and has now grown to be a 16-store nationwide motor factor with more stores on the way. This must be one of the longest sponsorship arrangements, not just in motorsport but in any sport in Ireland. I would like to wish Mike and Tony well in their new challenge – this is great to see.”
Other local entries already confirmed for the Circuit of Kerry include Tom Relihan and Maurice McElligott in their Ford Escort Mk1, Pa Naughton and John Cahill in a Honda Civic and Eddie Kennelly and Timmy Murphy in another Ford Escort.
Father and son team Charlie and Johnny Hickey are the first Killarney and District Motor Club crew to enter the rally.
Moriarty’s Kingdom of Kerry Championship
Saturday’s launch event for the Circuit of Kerry also marked the opening of registrations for the second year of the Moriarty’s Centra Kingdom of Kerry Rally Championship.
First to visit the registration desk was last year’s runner-up Darren Young. The Tralee-based driver fielded a new Honda Civic on the recent Birr Rally, a confidence boosting exercise as he acclimatises to his new car ahead of the opening round next month.
“I am looking forward to being on the pace on the Circuit of Kerry,” he said.
Other drivers to register on the day include John Daly from Listowel; he had the distinction of being the first driver to register last season, signing his way into the record books as the new championship’s first contender.
Co-driver Maurice McElligott signed up too, following a great run on last year’s Circuit of Kerry, he was the first ever championship leader, alongside Tom Relihan in an Escort Mk1.
Tralee Town Centre Rally Showcase
Clerk of the course Eoin Duffin revealed that Kerry Motor Club would run a new town centre Rally Festival in Tralee on the eve of the rally.
Local rally and classic cars will go on display along the pedestrian area of The Mall and The Square, and members of Kerry Motor Club will be on hand to explain motorsport to the general public and to give fans visiting the town for the rally something to look forward to on the night before the event.
Town mayor, Norma Foley was present at the launch on Saturday.
She said: “This event promotes Kerry as a brand, and I commend the club on the time and effort in organising and promoting this event each year. However, every year this club seems to be even more inventive, and that is why I am sure the town square event will be a huge success.”
Aidan Kelly of Tralee Chamber Alliance said he would give the event his full backing. He said: “It is fantastic that a rally like this is based in Tralee and we saw the excitement one rally car can bring [referring to Quinn’s Impreza that was parked outside the Rose Hotel] so imagine the excitement a whole range of rally cars will bring on Saturday evening. The Mall is made for an event like this. The other thing that I noticed is that motorsport seems to be a huge family occasion, and this is fantastic too.”
West Cork Rally Preview
The traditional St Patrick’s weekend rally takes place in Clonakilty this weekend, and the impressively strong entry has attracted a good Kerry interest.
The rally is the second round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, and its current leaders are Craig Breen and Paul Nagle in their Ford Fiesta R5. They start at two, behind multiple West Cork and Rally of the Lakes winners Donagh Kelly and Conor Foley in a Skoda Fabia R5.
With the British Rally Championship visiting West Cork for the first time, the top 25 cars come from the R5 class, making it one of the most-competitive entry lists ever seen in Europe since the current rules came in just over two years ago.
London-based Faha co-driver Shane Buckley is on pacenote duty for English rally legend Phil Collins in a Ford Escort.
Father and son team Kevin and Colin O’Donoghue start at 68 in their BMW M3 E30 while Bob Moran and Adam Power start at 120 in a Ford Escort.
The 1992 Circuit of Kerry winner, Gwyndaf Evans from Wales, will contest his first Irish rally in years and will start at number 72 in a Ford Escort.
Kerry Motor Club chairman PJ Dowd is listed to co-drive for Roland Doherty from Adare in an Opel Corsa.
London-based Ray Hilliard and his nephew, Conor Walsh from Listowel, are the third seeds in the historic section of the rally in their Escort Mk1.
Junior drivers representing Kerry on the two-day event include Kieran Reen/ Kevin Doherty and Conor Murphy / Keith McCarthy, both crews in Honda Civics.
Motorsport royalty in Killarney
Irish rally legend Rosemary Smith was one of the guest speakers at an International Women’s Day celebration organised by Kerry Businesswomen’s Network at the Muckross Park Hotel last Friday. Smith, from Dublin, was one of Europe’s most successful drivers in the 1960s and 1970s, including winning the prestigious Tulip Rally and the 1969 Cork 20 Rally. Smith has won the ladies’ prize several times on the Scottish Rally and the Circuit of Ireland Rally.
Malcolm Wilson Rally Cumbria
Killarney co-driver and Kerry Motor Club member, Noel O’Sullivan, alongside Derry man Connor McCloskey were the early leaders of Saturday’s Malcolm Wilson Rally in their Ford Fiesta R5 but were forced to retire at the end of stage three.