Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan clinched their maiden Irish Tarmac Rally Championship title after finishing second on a wet and wild Ulster Rally finale.
The title-winning partnership recorded their fifth top points-scoring result of the season when they finished 47.7 seconds behind British Rally Championship visitors Adrien Fourmaux and Alexandre Coria.
Devine entered the final round of the 2023 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship knowing a fourth-place finish or higher would seal his first-ever Rally2 title. A series of stunning wins on the Circuit of Ireland, Killarney Rally of the Lakes, Donegal International Rally, and Cork 20 Rally had given him a healthy lead at the top of the standings.
Meirion Evans and Josh Moffett were still in contention, however, needing a victory on the Ulster Rally to upset the odds.
Stormy weather made Ulster Rally’s tricky Friday stages even more testing and it wasn’t long before it claimed the hopes of one of ITRC’s title contenders.
Galway International Rally winners Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson were caught out on a slippery right-hander on Ulster’s second stage. Distracted by misbehaving windscreen wipers, Evans slid his Volkswagen Polo R5 into a gatepost on the Banbridge North test. The Welsh crew’s rally was over, bringing an early end to their title challenge.
That left defending champions Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes as Devine and O’Sullivan’s sole title rivals.
Moffett, who has struggled to find a sweet spot aboard his new Hyundai i20 Rally2 in wet conditions, was unable to make an impact on the waterlogged County Down stages. The Monaghan driver finished day one in fifth position, 20 seconds behind Devine who was second overall after winning Friday’s final test.
A perfect balance of speed and caution through Saturday’s six stages ensured Devine kept his maiden Tarmac title in his control. He shadowed his former European Rally Championship rival, Fourmaux, to pick up an all-important runner-up finish that secured a hard-fought championship title.
Jonathan Greer and Niall Burns completed Ulster Rally’s top three after an intense battle with Ulster rivals Cathan McCourt and Dean O’Sullivan. McCourt was on fire in Ulster’s early treacherous conditions and held third with two stages to go. But a brace of stage wins for Greer propelled his Citroen C3 into third position, giving him a positive result to end his season in the Irish Tarmac Championship.
Another driver to impress in the wet was Jason Mitchell who completed Ulster Rally’s top five – his best ITRC result of the year. Mitchell managed to keep Robert Barrable 4.1 seconds behind with Moffett a further 2.1 seconds back in seventh.
A third-place finish in Ulster Rally’s Rally4 category was enough for Shane Quinn to clinch ITRC’s Rally4 title. Quinn and co-driver Stephen Reynolds finished behind BRC’s Kyle White and Kyle McBride but crucially managed to stay ahead of his ITRC rival Casey Jay Coleman to record his second top-points finish of the season.
Ioan Lloyd had set the early benchmark pace in his Rally4 Peugeot but his Ulster Rally challenge fell by the wayside on Friday night’s washout conditions.
McEvoy Motorsport Modified ITRC
It was a weekend to remember for the Black family as brothers Jason and Gareth finished on the ITRC podium together for the very first time.
Jason Black and Karl Egan blitzed Ulster Rally’s wet and wild Friday night stages to finish the opening day with a 33.1-second lead over modified rivals Marty Toner and Ben Teggart.
Marty Toner dropped out of the running on Saturday’s Shinn Bridge opener with his brother Damian inheriting second.
Gareth Black found himself locked in a battle for third in two-wheel-drive with fellow Class 6 pilot Oliver Benton.
Disaster struck Benton on the final test of Saturday’s loop, dropping several minutes on the Mount Pleasant test.
That gave Gareth Black and Connor Dunlop top points in Class 6 and a third-place finish in Ulster’s two-wheel-drive section.
Damian Toner and Aodhan Gallagher claimed the runner-up spot, just over a minute behind National winners Jason Black and Karl Egan.
Synergy Motorsport Engineering Historic ITRC
Two weeks after their Cork 20 win, Trevor Wilson and Paul Mulholland claimed a remarkable 3-minute and 58-second victory on the Ulster Historic Rally. Wilson recorded fastest times on all but one of Ulster’s 10 stages to take his third Synergy Motorsport Engineering Historic win of the season.
David Armstrong and Ashley Trimble finished second, two minutes ahead of John Adams and Michael Johnston.
Duncan Williams and Guy Weaver, who were crowned 2023 Synergy Motorsport Engineering Historic Irish Tarmac Champions on the Cork 20 Rally, failed to make it through Ulster Rally’s opening stage. They slid across the road in treacherous conditions with their Ford Escort RS1800 getting beached on a soft verge.
Paul Browne Plant Hire & Civil Engineering Junior ITRC
The Paul Browne Plant Hire & Civil Engineering Junior ITRC headed to the Ulster Rally with a two-way, winner-takes-all fight for the Junior title. Round one winners Robbie O’Hanlon and Oisin Joyce held a two-point lead over West Cork, Killarney, and Cork 20 winners Darragh O’Donovan and Michael White.
O’Hanlon failed to make it through Ulster Rally’s opener, though, after his Honda Civic lost drive coming out of a left-hander.
That meant O’Donovan only needed a finish to snatch the title from his hands. The West Cork based driver dealt with the pressure superbly to record a four-minute class win to seal the Junior ITRC title in splendid fashion.
Words: ADAM HALL/ITRC Press Officer | Photos: DAVID HARRIGAN [Images must not be used in any way without prior written consent of the photographer]