The opening round of the 2016 Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship takes place this coming weekend and the Corrib Oil Galway International Rally has attracted one of the best entries of any Irish rally for a number of years. Despite the absence of the 2015 champion Donagh Kelly, the entry list boasts many previous championship winners. Top seed and 2013 Tarmac Champion Garry Jennings has never won in Galway, his best result was second overall two years ago, but with his Impreza WRC fully refettled he will be one of the favourites for victory. Declan Boyle won the event two years ago on his way to becoming the 2014 Tarmac champion and with his state of the art Fiesta WRC will fancy his chances of winning this event again.
The top five contains two more former Tarmac Champions in Derek McGarrity and Tim McNulty, the latter making his long anticipated return after a four year absence, while Roy White has recently switched to a WRC and will be looking to gain more experience of his car. 2014 Billy Coleman Award Winner Dean Raftery is at six on his home rally driving a hired Subaru Impreza WRC S9 and while the car may be lacking in outright speed compared to the newer Fiestas and Subarus, he can still be expected to put in a strong showing. World Rally cars cannot win the championship outright in 2016, but can win the individual rounds, and they are eligible for the WRC Trophy.
Declan Gallagher the current Modified Champion has a Subaru Impreza WRC S8 for this event and as it is out of homologation, will run in the modified category, while others to feature in this section will include the Escorts of Wesley Patterson, Chris Armstrong, Tom Flaherty and Liam Howlett along with the spectacular BMW M1 of Eugene Meegan. Stephen Greaney had a good result on this event twelve months ago while Mark Nangle is another to feature strongly in the modified championship over the past few years in his Impreza.
With class 5 (R5 / S2000) now the highest category eligible to win the Tarmac Championship, there is sure to be some tremendous battles throughout the year, and some of the best young talent in Ireland will be on show in Galway. Keith Cronin is a former winner of the event and the three time BRC champion will be one of the favourites for this year's title in his Citroen R5. However when the opposition includes the Moffett brothers, Desi Henry, Brendan Cumiskey, Alastair Fisher and Stephen Wright to name but a few, anything can happen it promises to be a superb spectacle.
The Historic competitors will have their first outing of the year following the unfortunate cancellation of the Historic Rally of the Lakes in December, and there are several former champions on the list including James O'Mahony and Dessie Nutt, while John Coyne makes the trip from the US in his beautifully prepared Sunbeam Lotus in which he won the 1982 Tarmac championship. There are nine entries in the Junior Category with Robert Counihan (Corolla), Mark O'Leary (Starlet) and Brian Lavelle (Civic) making up the top three seeds.
There are fifteen stages over the weekend with nine stages tackled on the first day between Kilreekil and Portumna with the first stage beginning at 9.16am. The remaining six stages run between Loughrea and Gort on the second day with service in Portumna on the first day and Gort on the second day.