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Donegal International Rally happened

The Donegal International Rally happened from Friday 15th through to Sunday 17th June. Now the only three-day Irish Rally left on the calendar the Letterkenny based event attracted a maximum entry of 151 competitors. Add on some 17 historics (days two and three) plus 22 juniors (day three) and fans were treated to non-stop action all weekend over a total of 20 familiar tarmac stages.

We were acting as timekeepers on the three days. There were four BMMC/BRMC members on our team, same as last year. Ross and Evan covered the flying finish while Victor and myself were on the stop line. Otherwise known as the GORM’s (grumpy old rally marshals) we were on Stages 2 and 5 at Cark Mountain, a familiar Donegal test of around 8 miles. Then for day two it was Gartan, running on Saturday afternoon as stages 11/13. We were here last year as well. On Sunday the GORM’s found themselves back at the end of the classic Fanad Head 9-mile stage as we were in 2017, this time running as tests 15 and 18.

Southern Ireland must be the ONLY country in the World where rally cars run 30 seconds apart on long fast closed-road stages. For a Country so obsessed with spectator safety on Motorsport events I for one do not understand why the short gaps. Ok perhaps it has to do with time allowed for road closures and maximum entries, but what about the safety of competitors? For example if a car were to crash, roll and block the road the next car will be on scene very quickly. One competitor told me of the time he rolled on a stage and he was trapped in his car with petrol dripping round him. He braced himself and fully expected the next car to slam into him. Somehow the following competitor managed to avoid hitting the stricken car and creating a much bigger accident, but just by good luck!

On the World Rally Championship, some stages run competitors at 3 minute intervals, some at two minutes and WRC 2 runs at minute intervals (which many think is not enough). In Northern Ireland and the UK, all tarmac stages over 8 miles run at minute intervals as do all gravel tests. Having said all this there were no safety issues or major incidents on the 2018 Donegal International.

We had our share of issues regarding the timing equipment over the weekend, which was both annoying and frustrating. With the 30 second intervals we had our work cut out, but we did manage to eventually get times for all competitors. No time to think and more chances of mistakes being made!

The weather was a mixed bag with rain showers on Friday and Sunday but it was dry on Saturday. Donegal Motor Club know how to look after their marshals. Apart from paying our B&B they supplied lunch and evening meals for us all.

Manus Kelly and Donall Barrett won by 42.4 seconds from Sam Moffett with Josh Moffett third. This was Manus and Donall’s third Donegal win in a row and the hat trick was achieved in the same Subaru S12B run by Melvin Evans. The Moffett’s R5 Ford Fiesta’s scored top points in the Irish Tarmac Championship. In the modified section the Darrian T90’s of Ian Barrett and Kevin Gallagher were first and second. Top Mk.2 Escort was driven by Gary Kieran, he finished third. TT winner Michael Dunlop drove well and was second in class 13 but crashed out on Sunday. 93 cars finished in the main field while 15 historics and 14 juniors made it to the end.

Retirements included no less than seven of the nine World Rally Cars who started the rally. Only winner Manus Kelly and PJ McDermott who finished 16th in a similar S12B, survived the carnage; Donagh Kelly slid his Ford Focus off on SS 3 Letterleague. Then Declan Boyle retired his Fiesta on Saturday morning, while Garry Jennings rolled on the first Gartan stage while challenging for the lead in his Subaru S12B. Darren Gass in only his second rally since 2015, didn’t finish in Derek McGarrity’s hired S14, he was another second day retirement. Joe McGonigle went off on Saturday in his MINI and Gary Cooney retired his Subaru S12B on SS 11. Stuart Biggerstaff crashed the family Subaru S9 on Fanad Head 1 while running in twelfth place.

In the R5 class to of the leading crews didn’t make the finish. Robert Barrable crashed his Fiesta on Saturday’s Knockalla stage and Desi Henry retired his Fabia twice, on Friday and then finally on Saturday while running in Rally 2.

Letterkenny on rally weekend attracts a huge influx of young people. Estimated at 60,000 some are genuine spectators, but lots of them are not in town to watch the Donegal Rally. Instead they cause huge traffic jams each evening with their prized modified cars as they go “diffin” along the streets. A form of drifting also takes place in industrial estates. The local police made around 70 arrests throughout the weekend, none of these were directly connected with the rally. Whether the town makes money from these young people is questionable. I know the rally boosts the local economy by a considerable amount. For example all accommodation in the area is booked up months in advance. Let’s hope the young trouble makers don’t cause the Donegal Rally to suffer any lasting damage!

A week prior to our Donegal trip, Victor and I attended the Mourne Rally. Based in Newry this was round three of the Northern Ireland Championship. We were covering two starts and two finishes on the eight stage tarmac event. Slieve Gullion Forest Park was the venue for the six mile stage, we knew it well having timed stages here many times over the years. Due to staffing shortages we also covered radio.

In contrast to Donegal the weather was extremely hot and sunny all day. The Newry and District Motor Club had been struggling to get a viable entry and in fact had to run at a loss with only 44 competitors starting. So a much more relaxed affair for us timekeepers and as a bonus the cars ran at one minute intervals.

As expected Derek McGarrity/Paddy Robinson dominated the rally in the only World Rally Car on the entry list. His Subaru S14 finished one minute and four point five seconds ahead of Damian Toner’s Mk.2 Escort while Camillus Bradley’s Mk.2 was a further 33.6 seconds back in third. There were no major incidents and 34 cars made it to the finish ramp at the Mourne Country Hotel in Newry. Thanks to the organisers we were treated to dinner at the hotel before the run home.

McGarrity has increased his lead in the Championship with the Mourne win. The seven times champ is now heading for another title, he has 33 points while nearest challenger James Laverty has only 14. Next up is the much-hyped Down Rally this month (More details below).

Rally Diary

Sat. 7th July
Loughgall Country Park Rally

Around 50 cars take to the six twisty tarmac stages within this beautiful Co.Armagh location. The event will be sponsored once again by Rainbow Communications. Despite the rally being open to four-wheel-drive machinery, not many enter, so expect the North Armagh Motor Club event to be dominated by the usual Mk.2 Escorts. For example Damian Toner has won here for the past three years. This time though expect former winner Camillus Bradley to give the Armagh driver a run for his money! We are covering radio points and supplying stage marshals as usual. Sign-on from 07.00. Rally starts 09.30.

Sat. 7th July
TOC Utilities Targa Rally

Some of our members will be helping out at this event covering timekeeping on the various tests. BMMC/BRMC member John Hughes is in fact Chief Timekeeper. Organised by North Ulster Car Club and based at the Vines Restaurant, Main Street, Garvagh, Co. Derry. A full entry of 60 will start at 10.30. Sign-on from 07.00. As I have said before Targa Rallies are very popular in Northern Ireland at the present time. Most motor clubs are now running a Targa, but because they have become so competitive, a full Championship has been actively discouraged! Some of the leading Mazda MX5’s and Toyota MR2’s have much more horsepower than the standard versions!

Sat. 14th July
Campbell Contracts Rally Time Trial

To be held at Carn Quarry, Ederney, Co.Fermanagh. Organised by Enniskillen MC. Sign-on from 08.00 for an 11.00 start. Marshals are always welcome. Hope it won’t be too dusty! I think I’ll give this one a miss!

Sat. 21st July
Carryduff Forklift Down Rally

A well hyped event this. Round four of the MSA Northern Ireland Rally Championship and also round four of the MSA Asphalt Championship. A maximum entry of 120 will compete over 12 closed-road stages in Co.Down, including the “infamous” Hamilton’s Folly. The event is organised jointly by Rathfriland Motor Club and Ballynahinch and District Motor Club. Based at the EIKON Exhibition Centre, Balmoral Park near Lisburn, the site features a service park plus the start and finish ramps and a spectator super special stage. A party will follow the event. We will be covering timekeeping and radio points as well as stage marshalling and providing rescue cover.


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