Neil McCance and co-driver Sean Ferris scored back-to-back resounding victories in rounds three and four of the Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge Ireland – the Larsen Circuit of Ireland Rally - which took place over the Easter weekend.
They led the nine-car field of Group N Mitsubishis right from the start and drove a near perfect rally, McCance pleased to have lost none of his form after recovering from an operation a few weeks ago.
Prior to the event, organisers of the Evolution Challenge were delighted to see entries more than double since the opening two rounds in West Cork. The pay-as-you go registration – rather than a start-of-season up-front payment option – proving to be popular amongst competitors.
The two-day format saw round three of the Evo Challenge take place over Saturday's eight special stages and round four over Sunday's four, longer and more technical tests, with points allocated for each day and the awards for the weekend based on aggregate scores from both rounds.
Making a welcome return to the Mitsubishi series after taking the title last year, Brendan Cumiskey and co-driver Richard Hyland – who was drafted in just before the event – were the top seeded crew in the Evo Challenge. However, their rally didn't last long, when the car landed so heavily following one of the notorious jumps in stage one, the bottom of the radiator split.
Even with suspension damage as well, Cumiskey managed to get the car out of the stage and top up the radiator, but the engine overheated in SS2 and he and Hyland had no choice but to stop at the side of the road.
Although admitting to be apprehensive after having a kidney removed six weeks beforehand, McCance was back on the pace straight away and was quickest on Saturday's opening stage by 20 seconds, ahead of Geoff McMahon/Robert Graham. Just three seconds behind were Alan Carmichael/Ivor Lamont, who were getting used to their brand-new Evo IX, and William Mavitty/Keefe Kilkoyne who were impressing in their Evo VI.
With SS2 cancelled because of an incident in the National B category of the rally, Evo Challenge crews counted just three of the four stages before the lunch-time service halt, where most crews reported that the undulating roads required high levels of concentration for both the driver and co-driver, many reporting narrow escapes or overshoots.
McCance/Ferris increased their advantage to 56 seconds ahead of Carmichael/Lamont, who were gathering pace having adjusted the suspension settings on their new car, even though an intercooler pipe had been damaged on a jump and the intercom had stopped working for a while. McMahon./Graham were now third, whilst Mavitty/Kilkoyne held onto fourth after having to contend with severe brake judder.