dust. Stone. mud. rain. Sunlight. elated. Excited. despair. victory.
A rally season can conjure up real contrasts of experience and emotion, and looking back now, the 2022 Irish Forest Rally Championship has it all.
In a country where tarmac rally reigns supreme, a season in the woods feels all the more intimate and connected.
Spanning five events, the return for the 2022 season was not without significant challenges and adversity, but ultimately led to some of the tightest battles in tournament history. I was at the center of it all, documenting the highs and lows.
Covering an event for Speedhunters is usually pretty straightforward: You arrange the necessary visits or accreditations, make a plan, take lots of photos, and tell the story. This time around, though, taking on the role of champion photographer means filming the event is only one aspect of a larger workload.
I was exposed to the world of news media and their strict release deadlines and communication styles, which required a lot of pre and post event press releases and everything in between.
To be honest, some bits were missed – which always happens when so many wheels are turning at the same time – but overall, hopefully this year will look back on as fondly as I remember it.
Promoting a title becomes slightly easier when the action offers so many interesting dynamics, from high-profile entries, breakout stars and battles decided near the finish line. Thankfully, the 2022 Irish Forest Rally Championship has all of these things too.
Although seven rounds were initially planned, the season ended up with five high-speed rallies, each bringing a different element to the event. From the lightning-flowing gravel of a mountaintop wind farm to the bumps and mud jumps of a forest trail, there’s such incredible variety in a gravel rally season.
Rain gear in April to sunscreen and face masks in the dust of August.
Anyone paying attention to the 2022 season will see Patrick and Stephen O’Brien grab the headlines. The brothers are outstanding representatives of the 2022 championship, driving the ŠKODA Fabia R5 to two victories, and ultimately championship glory. But more people played a role in this story.
Two of the sport’s stars made a one-off appearance. Keith Cronin (four-time British champion) drives a VW Polo GTI R5 at The Moonraker (Round 3) and WRC driver Craig Breen challenges Jim Walsh Cork Forest (Round 4) in a Ford Focus WRC. Both put up incredible fights against O’Briens and other title regulars.
While O’Briens’ R317 Motorsport-prepared Fabia claimed outright victories in the Willie Loughman Carrick Forest Rally (Round 2) and the Bushwhacker Rally (Round 5) – things weren’t easy for the brothers.
Jordan Hone and Patrick O’Brien have been battling for a true breakout title for this pair of young stars all year. It was heartwarming to see Hone be the first to congratulate O’Brien at the end of Bushwhacker’s finale.
With a title for himself, a Navigator title for his brother Stephen, and surrounded by his dad and their team of home run mechanics, it’s understandable that Patrick would be delighted.
The final stage duel of Omar’s victory, which saw O’Brien start to a dead draw with McCourt, won’t be the only final scene in the 2022 Irish Forest Rally Championship. The full results of the J1000 series are decided in the final miles of the final test of the season.
Designed for drivers aged 14-18, this collection is the ultimate first step into rallying.
Nobody could have written the script that would allow Jack Brennan to take the title late in the tournament.
For the young Kilkenny star and his co-driver, John McGrath, it looked like all their incredible driving had been for naught. At the start of round two at Hillary Hill — the final stage of the Jim Walshcock Forest Rally — the duo was second, 11 seconds behind Jack Harris and Aaron O’Regan.
But on stage, disaster struck for Harris and O’Regan. They ended up losing 18.7 seconds to hand the victory to Brennan, but the time loss wasn’t enough to allow Mosey Costello and Tom Murphy to move past their third. The late shift in position will allow Brennan to push Costello to the crown through the nature of the countdown.
The 2WD title ultimately went to Mickey Conlon, a staunch Cavan supporter and one of our most dedicated competitors in the Irish Forest Rally. Given the frantic nature of this season, though, the win wasn’t all plain sailing.
Heading to the final round at Oma – The Jungle Slayer – Conlon knew he had to outdo his great rival and friend John Gordon if he wanted to win. Gordon’s early retirement seems to have sealed the deal, and Conlon has enough of an edge over Adrian Hetherington and David Condell in the standings.
The goal was victory, and everything went sour for SS4 when Conlon’s Escort started having mechanical problems. Knowing that Gordon would lose a season of work after retiring, a frenzied effort by the service team allowed the MC Blinds car to emerge on the back loop and finish, earning the one-point championship needed to win the MIFRC 2WD.
While there is much to be said about a remarkable year, it would be remiss not to remember Eoin McCarthy, a young West Cork competitor who died in an accident at the Killarney Forest Rally. A big thank you to the contestants, officials and frontline services who fought to save Eoin this February afternoon. Ireland’s rally community will certainly never forget the future star lost that day.
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