Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tim McNulty takes the opening round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship. Seamus Burke makes a return to rallying in Ireland Rally after 26 Years

Tim McNulty opens his 2011 campaign with a victory at round one of the ITRC.  Picture © www.fordefotos.com
By Neil McDaid
Galway, Ireland. February 6, 2011.  Tim McNulty and co-driver Paul Kiely overcome flooded stages, driving wind and rain on their way to the overall victory at the 2011 Galway International Rally. Could this be McNulty’s year to take it all?
The strain of the Irish economy was clear by the limited amount of WRC cars in the top 10. Most notable, Garth McHale the 2010 IRTC Champion and defending 2010 Galway Rally champion would pull out due to last minute sponsorship issues. The main field would see a total of 76 Starters, 7 juniors and 20 Historic. The Galway International would also welcome back five expats from the USA.
Fast right out of the gate, McNulty in his S12B WRC Subaru took the opening stage and would go on to set the fastest time on every single stage thereafter. Galway has not been kind to McNulty in the past but this year he ruled supreme. Kevin Barrett and Sean Mullally also in an older WRC S11 Subaru would trail McNulty throughout the Rally, but they never seemed to put McNulty under any real pressure.
Derek McGarrity a two time IRTC Champion, seemed set to be in contention on the early stages, but he would retire his Evo 10 after the third stage with mechanical issues.

Quite possibly one of the most epic drives of the rally was Tommy Doyle and Liam Moynihan in a 2WD Renault Clio, Tommy would finish 4th overall ahead of many more powerful AWD Cars, including several WRC cars. Picture ©Philip McHugh

Some 26 years after departing from his native Ireland, Seamus Burke, one of the most decorated Irish rally drivers in the USA, marked his first return to the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship. 
Although Burke had returned to Ireland many times down through the years, this was his first time back competing in a rally car on the Irish stages.

Back in the day,
Seamus Burke was a regular competitor
on the Irish tarmac stages before
moving to the USA. Photo© http://www.rallyretro.com
For the 2011 Galway International Rally, Burke would be back behind the wheel of a classic 1979 MK11 Escort RS1800.  The car is owned by Frank Cunningham another ex-pat who’s originally from Galway.  Frank, who now resides in the Boston area, played a big part in Burke’s return for this event.
 Frank, a long time friend, has also navigated for Seamus on numerous U.S. rallies.   . 
The MK11 Escort is a very familiar car to Seamus as he had contested many rounds of the Irish and British Rally Championships in the early eighties in a very similar machine.
Burke would team up with co-driver Martin Brady,   Martin,  a familiar name to U.S. rally fans as he often makes the journey over to the U.S. to co-drive, most resently he sat with Tom Lawless at the New England Forest Rally.. 

Because of the car’s age and build it would be entered in the very popular historic class. Burke and Brady would start 18th in their class but despite the horrendous weather conditions, wind and driving rain, the pair would soon start to make their charge towards the front.
“We got off to a cautious start,” said Seamus. “The wind and driving rain make the going really tough.  Although I have seen tough conditions at the Galway Rally in the past, I can’t recall anything like this. We had a bit of an intercom problem on the first stage, so Martin had to revert to hand signals.  It took a few stages to get a feel for the car. For the past ten years or so I have been driving four wheel drive Mitsubishi’s mostly on gravel. I was quickly reminded how much of a handful the MK11 can be.”

A slight break in the rain lets Seamus Burke and Martin Brady push a little harder getting some air under the historic 1979 Ford Escort RS1800. Picture ©  www.fordefotos.com

At the end of day Burke and Brady were sitting 3rd overall in the Historic Class heading into the overnight halt in Galway. As daylight broke over Galway Bay the conditions on day two would prove to be just as challenging.  Pushing on, Burke and Brady would move to second.  They faced near disaster at the final service when the starter failed. Rather than changing the starter they decided on a push start to avoid a time penalty and prayed that the wee MK11 would stay running until the end. Despite the drama, they did eventually finish and managed to hold their position taking second overall in Historic and also claiming first overall in the Classic class.

The other U.S. based Irish drivers that also made the trek back to Ireland for the Galway Rally had some mixed results. Enda McCormick [NY] would have a big off on SS2 in his MK11 Escort ending his event. Frank Cunningham [MA] who ran in a Historic MK1 Escort, unfortunately would have to retire due to electrical issues.  Martin Donnelly [NY] in a Mitsubishi Evo 9 retired on last stage of the rally with Turbo problems, while Liam Egan [NY] finished 11th overall in a Subaru Impreza N12B.

© http://www.rallyretro.com/
© http://www.fordefotos.com/
©Philip McHugh