West Cork, Ireland in mid-March…
Waves crash against the rugged Atlantic shoreline, whoosh after whoosh after whoosh. Familiar, it feels comforting. Rally cars pass in a blast of noise and excitement in 30-second intervals, whoosh after whoosh after whoosh. It’s become unfamiliar; it’s been too long.
The opening miles past Dunmore House, the coastline barely more than the width of a wooden fence and a strip of grass away, opens into the dash towards Red Strand. The beach spills out onto the road here, a thin covering of sand to be catapulted skywards by each passing rally machine. Ardfield is a magical stage, but it had fallen silent.
Three long years have flown by. The lanes around Clonakilty have seen tractors and trailers, deaths and marriages, and an unending pounding under the feet of locked-down walkers. But they’ve not seen ‘the rally’.
The area has needed it, but then, we’ve all needed it.
St. Patrick’s weekend, Ireland’s national holiday, always meant a trip south-west. Heading home in 2019 with a head full of thoughts about the boom returning to Irish rallying, what lay ahead could never have been imagined.
Losing the 2020 West Cork Rally to our first round of Covid restrictions at the 11th hour was a hammer blow. Months of work was lost, and countless competitors were in the area either testing cars or doing recce on the stages. It left a void within the rallying world, but we knew this would be over with quickly. We knew this was only for a few weeks, right?
2020 petered out without a rally car turning a wheel in Ireland, and it was late 2021 before a sizeable event took place. But here we are, 2022. The grand return. Brilliant, the Irish Tarmac Championship is back. First up? Galway.
Excitement was real, as was the rain. Genuinely, I don’t think I’ve ever sustained a day like the Saturday in Galway. The rain simply did not relent.
Amongst the deluge, the mud and the thickest of Irish stone walls, rallying returned with a bang. New cars, returning faces and a renewed interest on the ditches. The crowds came out regardless of the weather, and the overall feeling was of optimism. Restrictions were lifting, rallying was returning, and West Cork was in a few weeks’ time.
For as much as I could enjoy Galway, the West Cork Rally is that bit more special. It’s local to me for a start, and the novelty of being on a special stage just 35 minutes from home is rather nice on a Sunday evening. But it’s also an event I’ve been heavily involved with behind the scenes, and seeing the work done made it all the more rewarding to hear the first car pass by on Saturday morning.
The 2022 West Cork Rally was a magical weekend. We had rally cars in the St. Patricks Day parade on Thursday.
And on Friday night, the town centre was packed to officially launch the event and welcome the rally back after its three-year absence. Clonakilty is a gateway to the incredible West Cork area and therefore thrives off tourism, so the rally coming back was a really important launchpad for the 2022 summer season.
And then we had two magical days of drama and high-speed action along the lanes and roads that snake around the town, from the coast right up into the hills.
I could wax lyrical about the event and get dewy-eyed, or go into forensic detail on the results (Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes won the event in a Hyundai i20 R5), but instead I’m going to leave you with a sizeable gallery of images from the weekend.
The Irish Tarmac Championship heads northward to the Easter stages in a few weeks’ time, before the familiar territory of Killarney’s Rally of the Lakes in May. Then it’s onto the legendary Donegal International in June, before finishing with the Cork ’20 in July and the Ulster Rally in August.
After the buzz of excitement from Galway and the West Cork’s incredible return, I’m going to be making it a priority to get out and catch more rallying this year. If you choose to do the same, I know you won’t be left disappointed.