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MacHale means to keep control

Will Keith Cronin spring a surprise and be the first Group N driver to win the Galway international rally for the first time in 19 years? Or will it be Richard Cathcart in his Subaru N12B? Can Gareth MacHale repeat his victory of last year in the Focus WRC? Or will Craig Breen claim a first S2000 win in his Fiesta?

The prospects of a hectic two-day battle for overall honours will certainly entice huge crowds to the west this weekend. With three Tarmac wins to his credit MacHale will be able to control the event from the front but will have to keep a close watch on the progress of Tim McNulty and Kevin Barrett, as well as some of the leading Group N drivers and Craig Breen.

Several crew combinations have changed for this season among them Greg Shinnors who guided Cronin to British rally championship victory last year. The Limerick co-driver has had to opt out this year because of work commitments. Barry McNulty replaces him in Galway, while his regular driver Alistair Fisher will have Rory Kennedy sitting with him.

Paul Kiely replaces David Moynihan alongside Tim McNulty and Eugene O'Donnell takes over from Killian Duffy in Aaron MacHale's Focus WRC.

Patrick Elliott and Kevin Barrett could be the dark horses in the pack. Elliott is the reigning national champion, while Barrett scored his maiden Dunlop win in Galway last August. Local interest centres on Mike Bird and JJ Fleming both in Subaru WRCs.

With bonus points up for grabs for all non-WRC cars the battle for Group N honours. A massive battle is promised as Cronin and Cathcart line up against Garry Jennings, Alan Ring, Jer O'Donovan, Anthony O'Halloran and Jonny Greer. That battle alone would be worth a visit to Galway.

More class war is promised in the lucrative Citroen Racing Cup category where almost 20 C2R2 Max cars battle for a €20,000 prize fund. British champion Martin McCormack and Irish champion Adrian McElhinney line up against Robert Barrable, Ross Forde, Mark Donnelly, Mark Kane and Joe McGonigle in what should be a formidable battle for cash and points.

Based at Oranmore, the two-day event will see nine stages run in the Monivea area on Saturday and six stages in the Loughrea area on Sunday.

  • The rallycross season resumes at Mondello Park on Sunday with a capacity entry in all classes. The modified class drivers including reigning champion Michael Coyne will be hoping for a continuation of the dry conditions that have prevailed so far this season.

Three points separate Michael Coyne (modified class Nova) and Tommy Graham (supercar class Fiesta) who has scored four class wins from four starts. David Dempsey and Andrew Morris are a further 14 points down on Graham.

Andrew Patterson leads the Jondol junior championship for 14- to 17-year-olds from Paul Barrett and Simon Quinn, while Niall Murray and Mark Francis are another pair worth watching.

  • Tipperary MC is appealing to competitors to get their entry for the Sean Conlon Memorial rally to clerk of course John Ward by tomorrow. The event -- the opening forestry championship round -- has attracted only 25 committed entries to date. The club warns the event is in danger of cancellation unless numbers can be increased by tomorrow.

  • A new initiative will see multi-stage tarmac rallysprints promoted at Mondello Park this year. The Rallysport Association have planned two meetings -- one this month and the other in July. The first event will be the first interprovincial where competitors will compete for individual glory with the top 10 from each province scoring for their team.

  • Hankook Tyres has renewed its sponsorship of the Northern Ireland stages championship with the largest and most exciting package ever secured for the series. Several new initiatives are planned for the series. The 10-round championship -- combining a mixture of circuit-based events with closed roads and forestry events -- kicks off at Kirkistown at the end of the month.

  • Joint leaders Eddie Peterson and Steven Ferguson are tied on 216 points apiece in the Hewison autotest championship with Eamonn Byrne third on 200. Damien Doran leads the Europa Cup novice class from Ger Lawlor and Rory Power.

  • While he may not be driving in Galway, Eugene Donnelly was busy assessing the powerful Australian-built Skelta G-Force for Irish Tarmac rallying last week. "The test was unavoidably subjective as the car was not set up for our type of stages and the weather was very poor. I must say it impressed me and I feel it could readily be made competitive" said the five-times Tarmac champion.