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Donegal Delights

The 2017 Donegal Rally was a classic encounter. Right from the word go we had intense action from the 150+ car entry on this the only 3-day event in the Irish Tarmac Championship.

For my part in the proceedings I was part of a four-man team of BMMC/BRMC timekeepers responsible for recording the finish times on no less than six of the twenty special stages.

Starting on day one Friday we were located near the small village of Convoy. This was the end of the relatively short SS3/6 Corradooey. While Ross and Evan manned the flying finish Victor and I took charge of the stop line. As the competitors start at 30 second intervals in Southern Irish rallies we were kept extremely busy with no time for errors. Times are recorded by beams at the finish line and sent through to us via the clocks then recorded on the competitors time card.

Fastest after the second pass was Donagh Kelly in an old-style 2 litre Ford Focus WRC. Second place went to last years winner Manus Kelly (no relation) and third Garry Jennings. Both of the later in Subaru Impreza S12 WRC’s also 2 litre cars. Best of the R5 runners was Alastair Fisher in his Fiesta. He would lead the Tarmac Championship competitors as the first three big engined machines were not eligible to score points.

There were no serious accidents on that first day which turned out to be warm and sunny. After an evening meal in the Clanree Hotel it was time to check in to our accommodation for the weekend, the Mount Royd B&B in Carrigans. Possibly one of Ireland’s best!

If it’s Saturday it must be Gartan was our mantra! Yes for day two we were on the end of the classic 10-mile stage near Glenveagh National Park. Although dry there was a slight breeze for stage 12 and by the time the cars returned to us on SS14 there was a bit of showery rain to finish the day. Again everything ran smoothly both runs and Donagh still led the battle of the Kelly's by 11 seconds. Garry Jennings was third in his Subaru while Alastair Fisher led the R5’s in fourth with championship leader Sam Moffett snapping at his heels in fifth. In the modified class Kevin Eves had been leading but crashed heavily at the infamous Wilhare’s Corner in the Knockalla stage. His Corolla would go no further and he suffered two broken bones in his foot. This corner has claimed stars like Austin MacHale and Andrew Nesbitt in the past so Eves was in good company!

After that the modified “race” developed into a battle between no less than THREE Gallagher’s! Kevin assumed the lead but put his Darrian off on the first Sunday stage as the weather closed in. From then Damien in his Escort wasn’t to be headed and he took the win from the “Milkman” Declan in his Toyota Starlet. Among the 50+ Mk. 2 Escorts taking part in the huge modified section of the rally was none other than motorcycle ace Michael Dunlop who finished a very creditable 18th out of 75 finishers.

Back to our rally. On Sunday we were on the finish controls of SS15/18 Fanad Head. For the first time in six years this classic ten-mile test would be reversed. The stop line was in a much better location than last year which I covered as well. The weather had taken a turn for the worse with heavy rain falling for the first run. All the competitors were on the wrong tyres and complained of slippery conditions with lots of standing water. Manus Kelly always goes well here and he was fastest reducing the gap to leader Donagh, now just four seconds separated the top two with five stages remaining. By the time they returned for stage 18 the rain had stopped. Manus took 17 seconds from Donagh and he led the rally by 12 with just two stages left. Although some cars retired on both passes of Fanad everything ran smoothly for us and we had over 100 main event crews plus 18 historics and 14 juniors following behind.

So that was Donegal 2017. Donagh Kelly/Conor Foley tried to haul back the time on SS19 Atlantic Drive but crashed out leaving Manus and co-driver Donall Barrett to cruise through the final High Glen stage to take their second victory on the bounce on their home event.

Alastair Fisher/Gordon Noble finished ahead of Garry Jennings/Rory Kennedy in second after a stunning time on the last stage while Sam Moffett and Karl Atkinson were fourth and still lead the championship but only by 7.5 points from Fisher. The other Moffett brother Josh with James Fulton was fifth in another Fiesta R5. Altogether there were 93 finishers [18 in the International section plus the 75 modified competitors]

I have been timing on the Donegal International Rally since 1984 and have only missed a few years. 30 years ago in 1987 Bertie Fisher won his first Donegal driving a Manta with Austin Frazier. In fact Opel Mantas filled the podium with the late John Connor [he died in January] second and James McDaid third.

20 Years Ago 1997

It was Austin MacHale who took victory in his Toyota Celica ST185 45 seconds ahead of Donegal man Paul Harris in a Subaru Legacy. Peadar Hurson was third in his Ford Escort Cosworth.

10 Years Ago 2007

The one and only Sebastian Loeb and Daniel Elena came to Donegal and as expected they dominated the event. The nine-times World Champion was using the rally as a test for the forthcoming Rally Ireland due to run in November. They won by two minutes from Mark Higgins/Rory Kennedy in a Subaru Impreza WRC. Eugene Donnelly/Paul Kiel were four minutes back in third driving another Subaru. I well remember being on the stop line of the final stage Atlantic Drive and congratulating Loeb on the victory!

Back to the present and we all had a great weekend in Donegal. My thanks to Ross {and Cody] Evan and Victor for their company, the craic was mighty and we were well looked after by Donegal Motor Club and of course by Mr.& Mrs. Martin at Mount Royd B&B.

Rally Diary

SAT. 29th JULY

The fourth round of the 2017 MSA Northern Ireland Championship. Organised by Cookstown Motor Club the route includes three repeated closed-road tarmac stages in the Coalisland/Stewartstown area of Co.Tyrone. We are timekeeping and providing other marshalling services. Let’s hope we see a Derek McGarrity/Jonny Greer battle again, that's if if both enter!