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Friday 15 December 2017

Evans looks to thwart cronin

NEWLY crowned Dunlop champion Melvyn Evans has designs on adding the Fastnet Rally to his portfolio of Irish victories as he returns to Skibbereen this weekend.

Top seed and last year's winner Denis Cronin will be bidding for victory to equal the triple win record set by fellow Cork drivers Frank O'Mahony and Liam McCarthy.

Meanwhile, Dunlop stalwart Kevin Barrett will be aiming for his first win of the season, having lost on a tie-break in Kerry earlier in the year, and Darragh O'Riordan will be hoping to improve on his Clare result where he finished fifth overall. Local ace and top Group N seed Kevin Kelleher will be aiming to end his season on a high note while Welshman James Belton (Subaru WRC) and two-wheel drive aces Declan Boyle (Escort Mk2) and Brian O'Mahony (Clio S1600) round off the top 10.

Seeded at No55 is five-times Tarmac champion Eugene Donnelly, who will be co-driven by Adrian Deasy in a Vauxhall Nova as part of a fund-raising campaign for West Cork Rapid Response.

p History will be created as the final round of the Petro Systems Forestry rally championship visits Northern Ireland for the first time on Saturday. Rathfriland MC will host the southern visitors on the Castlewellan-based Down Rally alongside the penultimate Hankook Tyres Northern Ireland championship round.

Two battles will be contested in the southern series. One is between Pat O'Connell and John Reid for the championship title. The other for the next three places overall, while several classes have still to be decided. O'Connell has all but won the title -- he needs a single point which he gets for registering as a starter. On the other hand Reid has a mathematical chance of taking the title if for some reason O'Connell cannot start and he scores maximum points on the day. The challenge for the Northern title is just as keen with 22-year-old Stuart Biggerstaff leading the series by seven points from Mark Donnelly.

Donnelly holds a slight advantage over the leader as he competed in Down last year -- albeit in a Fiesta -- while Biggerstaff comes to the Down event for the first time.

p This will be a crucial week for several young stars capable of successfully challenging on the international stage as they create a new golden era in Irish rallying. Craig Breen is one of five Irish drivers aiming to succeed Keith Cronin as UK Pirelli Star Driver as they vie for the most valuable prize in British rallying -- a fully funded drive in a TEG Sport-run Subaru Impreza on each of the seven British championship rounds next year.

The 20-year-old Waterford ace along with 23-year-old Robert Barrable (Swords), 20-year-old Daniel McKenna (Scotshouse Co Monaghan), Ulster pair Alistair Fisher and Jonny Greer, two Finns -- Mikko Pajunen and Jarrko Nikara -- Welsh teenager Elfyn Evans and Tom Clark faced some tough competitive action as they were put through their paces in Wales over the past two days. The winner will be announced today.

Immediately after the British competition Breen heads to Spain where he is one of 16 young drivers competing for the Pirelli Star Driver Global Shoot-out where the prize will be a fully funded drive on selected world championship rounds next year.

p The Tarmac Rally Organisers Association has announced the championship dates for next year subject to Motorsport Ireland approval. The series starts with Galway on February 5/6 followed by Circuit of Ireland (April 23/24), Killarney Rally of the Lakes (April 30/May 1), Jim Clark (May 27/28), Donegal (June 17/19), Ulster (August 19/20) and ending in Cork on the first two days in October.

The TROA has eased a potential problem as the late Easter date (April 24) separates the Circuit and Killarney events by just one week. Recognising the difficulty it could cause, the TROA has reduced the number of counting events to the best five of seven scores, thereby removing the compulsion on competitors to compete in both rounds.

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