“They were the real thing” – that’s what was said about a few pairs of white Guess runners making their way through Loughrea Mart.
They were being modelled by a few young women that looked as if they stepped off the catwalk in Milan.
And here they were stepping between the puddles in The Mart in Loughrea, which doubles up as the service area for the two-day Galway International Rally over the weekend.
No rally jackets or branded woollen hats for them, they were just an example of the many different walks of life finding themselves following rallying.
Then there were the ones with the latest official rally jackets and Corrib Oil blue Wooly Hats to support the first round of the IRTC championship, at the Galway International Rally held in the first week in February.
There is always a great air of anticipation heading to Galway at the start of a new year. New cars, old cars with new developments, new teams, all important new sponsors coming on board.
I have missed very few Galway internationals over the last 40 years and this one was up there among the best of them. A packed out entry of R5 cars plus the added big attraction was the amount of modified and historic Mk 2 Escort, 35 in total! more by far than any other rally car running in the event over the weekend.
One of the things that made this year great was how much the rally leader changed, especially over the opening day.
After the ceremonial start on Friday night outside the Skeffington Arms Hotel in Galway it was down to the real business on Saturday morning with three stages done three times. We watched them through the second and fifth stage and as always we were keeping an eye on the progress of the Donegal competitors. We were lucky enough to meet up with a former multi winner Brian Boyle who navigated for his cousin Declan Boyle many times on this event and Brian was out enjoying watching the event along with his son Rohan from the vantage point from the top of ivy-covered stone ditch in Galway. Declan Boyle was the first Donegal man through the stage but as the day progressed his Volkswagen Polo R5 started to suffer gear selection problems and even though the crew changed the gearbox in service the problem was still there which forced Declan out of the rally but the did manage to get going on Sunday again which seen Declan get his car on the pace with the leaders.
The big Donegal talking point was Mark Alcorn and Cllr. John O’Donnell on the notes who were early leaders in the national section with a blistering fast time on the opening stage in the dry, It was fellow Donegal competitors Kevin Eves and Chris Melly who were the only ones who could catch Alcorn as the first day progressed and the conditions became wet and slippery, Kevin was to retire from the fight back with engine bother on Saturday afternoon. Two young Letterkenny drivers were both to suffer retirement on the first day Ben Walsh, a IRTC class winner in 2022 was to damage his front and back axle and although the car looked perfect sitting up on axle stands in service they were forced to go out of the event but managed to get the car going on Sunday again. Davin Orr who we featured on the run up to the Galway Rally was also going well on his very first Galway Rally but was to break a front brake disc on Saturday as well that forced them out of the rally.
At the front the R5 battle changed so many times on the opening day. It looked like Josh Moffett was punching in some big times, but seeing his i20 arriving at our viewing point with spectator ribbon wrapped around the back spoiler were the tell-tale signs that the 2022 tarmac champion had been off the stage up an escape road somewhere losing valuable time. Arriving into Loughrea Mart minus a back bumper showed how much the Monaghan man was pushing it to stay in front.
On the last final day of the Galway International Rally, I could hear the glorious sound of the rally cars in the distance as they made their way from Galway Race Course (which doubled up as Parc Femme) along the Motorway into Loughrea for the first service of the day. Sunday was to add to more seasons of weather, from the rain on Saturdays it was winter and minus 2 degrees soon Sunday morning that forced the organiser to cancel the first stage of the day because of the heavy overnight frost of the day right through to brilliant sunshine as the day progressed. The old grey duck tape came to the rescue for a few drivers as they lowered the height of the sun visors to see the road ahead.
Donegal Town’s David Kelly and Dean O’Sullivan’s new Citroen looked great and 8th overall was a great result for the weekend.
I watched Meirion Evans take his beautiful Castrol Edge sponsored Polo through the stage in what was a very controlled drive which gave the Welshman his first well deserved Galway win and to confused things his father also Meirion Evans his father was also was the overall winner historic section in a beautiful sounding RS1800, ZF gearbox and the unmistakable sound of a RS 1800 bouncing engine note bouncing off the stone wall ditches are the most memorable sound bite for me of Galway down through the years.
Sunday was the longest wait knowing that Donegal’s Alcorn and O’Donnell were leading the modified. The pages of Shannonside Rally results were repeatedly being refreshed by spectators along the ditches and hearts missed a beat when the results showed the boys had lost a load of time! Thankfully it turned out to be a glitch in the system, and to our relief car number 29 was returned to its rightful place on the 10th overall on the leaderboard and overall in the National.
We decided to head to the end of the last stage to meet the Donegal crew to celebrate their result. We watched on trackers as the final stage went live and the red escort finally came into view to the flying finish. At half three on Sunday evening Mark Alcorn finished the final stage of the Galway Rally in a long awaited and well deserved 1st overall in the modified.
I watched and enjoyed his moments of success as they live streamed by Killian Duffy from On the pace notes (who also supplied two bottles of champers) as the Alcorn and O’Donnell got to grips with the corks and the all trappings of the winners enclosure. The all important support team that helped them achieve an amazing overall national title were there to Join in the celebrations. Here’s looking forward to ’23 and more inspiring drives by Gartans talented driver Mark Alcorn and Cllr. John O Donnell on the notes.
This wee post at the end of the rally from Mark himself says it all and he thanks all his team on a great win like this.
“What can you say after this weekend but what a great team I have around me. A team with big hearts and love for a great sport. John o Donnell flawless as usual on the notes we only fell out once all week. to the boys, Gerard Mc Grenra Sean o Donnell Jp Boyle Ryan Gormley Liam Doherty Enda Mc Corrack, to Michaela and Noelle the tea lady’s. Bobby Sharkey and his team all deserve this win. And to my sponsor and friend Ronhill LTD Ronan Hilferty for his great support. Logo to go for the jackets. I can’t thank you all enough.”
– Mark Alcorn