Irish Forest Rally Championship: Bushwacker Preview


David Condell is no stranger to darkness Bushwhacker Rally begins with pair of nightime stages. Pic by Cian Donnellan.

Lights on, we’re heading into the dark this weekend as the 2023 Sligo Pallets Forest Rally Championship heads to Omagh for the sixth round of the season, the Northern Gravel Grand-Prix that is the Bushwhacker Forest Rally! Through the woods west of the town, Friday night will see the strobe-like illuminations of camera flashes, the deep red glow of racing brake disks and the darkness pierced by the shine of lightbars and lamp-pods as Gravel Rallying heads into the night for the one and only time this year. Kicking off with a pair of night stages on Friday, the Bushwhacker continues through Saturday with an exciting eight stage route that sees the competitors tackle 67km of what are known nationwide as some of the most exciting Gravel Stages in Ireland.

Amongst a bumper entry received by Omagh Motorclub, the majority of eyes will be on the 2023 Championship’s pair of leading crews, Ryan Caldwell & Arthur Kierans in the Skoda Fabia R5 and Mark Donnelly & Sean Ferris in the VW Polo GTi R5. A retirement for Donnelly on the recent fifth round of the series, the Lakeland Stages Rally, has allowed Caldwell to open a significant gap at the head of the standings, so much so that he could wrap up the title this weekend depending on results, and whether Donnelly decides to run withing Championship specifications and score points for the round. Jordan & Paul Hone return having missed the last round and they will be aiming to close up the gap to Donnelly’s second place in the standings, while David Condell & Michael Coady will be out to make amends for a late retirement in Enniskillen which saw them drop vital Championship points.

In the 2wd section, its set to be an absolute cracker once more as the leading trio of crews do battle yet again over the high-speed jumps and bumps that the Bushwhacker is known for. Hugh McQuaid & Declan Casey will be buoyed be an incredible performance last time out where they finished 2nd amongst the Championship registered crews, and the first 2WD on the day. Behind them, Mickey Conlon & Paul McPhillips will be quick as they always are, while Shane McGirr will be trying to make amends for a frustrating day last time out as he has hopefully sorted some of the issues seen with the venerable Toyota Starlet. 

A highlight of the Northern Irish rally calendar, the Bushwhacker has attracted a good number of registered crews aiming to battle it out across the many classes, and for our Class 11F crews the action is set to be intense as the race for honours heats up. Ian McCarthy & Patrick O’Sullivan travel North for the very first time, but they will have a busy day battling rivals Michael Fitzgibbon & Carrie Ryan, while Eugene Ward & Eoin Collins are still firmly in the mix with just a single Championship point separating the trio after five rounds.

The action in Omagh kicks off at 9.25pm under the cover of Darkness as the crews tackle the first of two nighttime stages on what is set to be an incredible Bushwhacker Forest rally, and once more the fate of the 2023 Sligo Pallets Forest Rally Championship is sure to take plenty of twists and turns over the course of eight brilliant stages!

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