The Clare Motor Club has received a huge local entry, with a total of 34 crews taking part. Patrick Kelly and Martin Casey have entered the junior section along with nine other drivers, while the rest of the Clare crews are entered in the main field. Topping the Clare list is Ruan man Anthony O’Halloran, with Ennis’s Charlie McEnery calling the notes in their Mitsubishi Evo 9.
After a recent engine build and full overhaul, the Clare crew will be aiming for a top-five finish. They are seeded at number 4, which is where they finished in last year. In last year’s Clare Stages they also won Group N and the prestigious Noel McCullagh award for the fastest Clare Crew on the day.
The Clare Rally was the principal reason why the Ruan native began rallying in the first place. Back in 1988, Anthony wheeled out a Mk. 1 Escort on his rallying debut and since then, a Mk. 2 Escort (1989) an Opel Manta (1995) and a Mitsubishi Evo (2008) have graced the laneways not just of the Banner county, but nationwide.
Anthony has competed on virtually all of the Clare rallies since his competitive debut and second place in 1995 remains his best result. That year, the event was a round of the national series and was won by Carlow’s Stephen Murphy in a Ford Escort Cosworth.
One of the most popular drivers on the Irish club scene, Anthony has competed countywide and his driving skills, particularly in the Opel Manta, made him a very popular figure.
An attack on the 2009 Dunlop national series was interrupted in Kerry and in Limerick. It transpired that one of the differentials wasn’t working and putting all the brakes to the rear of the car made it difficult to handle. Anthony called a halt to his national bid in Sligo and in effect hasn’t done any real rallying since April.
He said of his target for Sunday, “I want to finish, to try to get a complete rally. I will go out and do the best I can. The fact that it’s my home event brings no extra pressure, a lot of us wouldn’t be rallying at all were it not for the local rally, that was the dream, to do your home rally.” Charlie McEnery will co-drive for Anthony, who was previously co-driven by his nephew, Laurence O’Halloran, and Conor Foley
A class winner in the national championship in 2000, 2005 and 2007, Anthony has strong views on the series. “It needs to change now, big time. It needs to be become Group N based to get a bit of life back into it. No disrespect to the three WRC cars that are there at the moment, they are very predictable.
“I think if it was changed, it would be a mighty championship. Group N, the old Group A cars and two-wheel drive cars – all in – would put serious life back into the championship. However, if the Group N idea was adopted, the fuel should be controlled to make it more of a level playing field. The events themselves seem fine, 10 from 15 on a rotational basis.”
Celebrating her 28th birthday on the weekend of this Clare Rally, Gráinne McEnery competes with Kerryman, Mike Quinn in a Mk2 Ford Escort. A top result including beating her co-driver brother, Charlie, who calls the notes for Anthony O’Halloran, would be the ideal birthday present.
Gráinne began co-driving in 2006 in the Clare Single Stage Rally with British-based Galwegian, John Reddington (Ford Escort), finishing 11th overall. Last season, Gráinne, a service manager with O’Sullivan Hansbury Motors in Ennis, partnered Miltown Malbay’s, Eddie Cogan (Peugeot 205).
Leading the rally.ie category (an inaugural award for two-wheel drive competitors) within the Dunlop series, Mike and Gráinne also head Class 14 in the national campaign. In addition, they are third overall in the Top Part West Coast Championship, of which this weekend’s Clare event is the penultimate round.
Naturally, there is great rivalry within the McEnery family with brother Charlie’s involvement with Anthony O’Halloran “Yes, there is always great banter when we are both competing and naturally, I will be hoping to finish ahead of Charlie in this event,” commented Gráinne.
Without doubt, third overall on the Circuit of Kerry has been the highlight of the season thus far. “Yes, that was great, it was some spin, we had a bit of a mishap in the Circuit of Munster, crashing on the fourth stage, we dropped down to 86th place but fought back to finish 21st overall and a class victory.
Other Clare entries include Keith Naughton from Ennis with Miltown Malbay’s Jane Cogan calling the notes and they will be competing in their Subaru N9. Other Clare competitors such as Edward Cogan, Joe Baker, Derek Flynn, Declan O’Regan, Declan Courtney, Niall O’Sullivan, Ross Kenny, Francis Kelly, Patrick Horan, D Ryan, Adrian Hynes, Kieran Bailey, Derek Considine, Alan O’Callaghan, Tom Howard, Tony Tuttle, Michael McNamara, Aidain McArthur, Brian Liddy, Brian O’Shaughnessy, Donnacha Keane, Declan Rigney, Robert Ryan, Martin O’Halloran, John Leirnihan, Tommy Flanagan, Michael Rodgers, Martin Kelly, Al and Pat Meaney, Tom Ryan and Michael Fitzgibbon, will all be fighting for honours in their various classes.
The Clare Stages Rally 2006 committee has put many hours of hard work over the past number of months to ensure that the rally passes off safely and smoothly.
Heading up the whole operation is Dermot Kelleher, clerk of the course. Assisting him are John Tynan, deputy clerk of the course; John McNamara, assistant clerk of the course; Vicky Finn, secretary of the event; Rose Kelleher, entries secretary, Adrian Kerins, John Flanagan and Martin Leahy, stage commanders; Peter Rees, John Lally, Gerry O’Connor, assistant stage commanders; Gerry O’Brien, chief marshal, Pat Killeen and John Walsh, service area co-coordinators.