Here Comes Summer
This month heralds the start of the summer rallying season. The highlight must be the Joule Donegal International Rally. Round five of the Irish Tarmac Championship, the only three-day rally left in Ireland takes place from Friday 21st until Sunday 23rd.
Based as usual in Letterkenny there are six stages on Friday on the Innishowen Peninsula while classics Knockalla, Fanad and Atlantic Drive feature on Saturday and Sunday. For our part we are due to provide timekeepers on all three days. There are a total of 20 stages and a capacity entry of 160 cars are due to start.
Leading entries include runaway unbeaten Tarmac Championship leaders Craig Breen and Paul Nagle. This time they will be in a Ford Fiesta WRC and not an R5 machine. That means of course no championship points, but they want to win the prestigious Donegal International Rally and think that WRC power is required to achieve that. They may return to the R5 car later in the year.
Second overall in the ITC series Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble have a chance to close the points gap to Breen, they will be in their usual Fiesta R5. Donegal winner for the past three years Manus Kelly is seeded number one in his Hyundai i20 R5.
Other top drivers who fancy a 2019 Donegal Rally win have also chosen to compete in World Rally Cars. These include local man Donagh Kelly in his Ford Focus. Donagh has been trying to win here for years. He had been using a Skoda Fabia R5 on some events this season, but without any success. Fermanagh’s Garry Jennings, also a previous Donegal winner, is due to run his Subaru Impreza S12. Two more past victors, Declan Boyle and Sam Moffett will run Ford Fiesta WRC’s and Desi Henry has switched to a Fiesta WRC after selling his Fabia R5.
In fact a total of 14 World Rally Cars and 11 R5’s are on the entry list. Just a pity we don’t have a level playing field then. Perhaps if everyone was in an R5 we would see who the BEST driver was!
In the modified or national section of the Donegal Rally expectation has been high ever since USA superstar Ken Block announced that he would take part. The original “Hoonigan” is bringing over his specially built Ford Escort Cosworth to compete against the usual mad men in their Mk.2’s. Letterkenny will be buzzing all weekend with drifters and young people cramming the streets to show off their motors. Let’s hope they behave themselves.
Wales Moving To Northern Ireland?
The news that the British round of the 2020 World Rally Championship could move to a Belfast base has shocked us all. Apparently the deal would be for one year only with Wales Rally GB returning to the principality in 2021. The move has been recommended by the WRC promoter. He insists that moving out of Wales to other regions every few years is the only way to insure Britain keeps its round of the World Championship.
Talks have already started with all interested parties, although with no government in place in Northern Ireland, backing for the deal could prove to be difficult. The rally would continue to be sponsored by the Welsh government (hence the title) who are reportedly supportive of the proposed changes.
Wales Rally GB (or should that be Wales Rally UK) would use the famous closed road stages of Northern Ireland for the three-day event. The last time the WRC visited NI was back in 2009 when some western stages were part of Rally Ireland. This time round as well as Tyrone’s Sloughan Glen we could see classic tests such as Torr Head in Antrim and County Down’s Hamiltons Folly in use. The only fly in the ointment is the October date, the weather could be ok or it could in fact be shite! Anyhow a decision on whether the move to Belfast is on or not is due this month, check press for details.
30 Years Ago.......1989
David Llewellin and Phil Short driving their Team Toyota GB Celica GT-4 scored a dominant win on the Donegal International Rally. We were timekeeping as usual on the three-day event. Second was the Toughmac BMW M3 of Bertie Fisher and Rory Kennedy who finished one minute and 30 seconds down. James Cullen and Ellen Morgan were a further two and a half minutes back in a Sierra Cosworth. Austin McHale (that’s the way he spelt his surname back then!) had a big accident at Wilhaires Corner on Knockalla crashing his Sierra at over 100mph but escaping injury.
20 Years Ago.......1999
I attended the Scottish Rally as a spectator. The top drivers in the British Championship were in F2 Seats and Renaults and they were spectacular on the dusty gravel stages of the Galloway forests. Then Roy Bartlem and myself were timing on the Donegal International which was dry Friday, wet Saturday then dry on Sunday. James Cullen and Ellen Morgan won in a McKinstry hired Subaru Impreza after a first stage puncture dropped them way down the leaderboard. Andrew Nesbitt, also in a Subaru, fell back to 114th place after stage one but he also charged back to eventually finish fourth.
10 Years Ago.......2009
Derek McGarrity won the NI Championship Mourne Rally driving a Subaru Impreza S12B. Kenny McKinstry retired his S8 while leading and is now 29 points behind McGarrity at the half way point in the 2009 series. I was Chief Timekeeper and had Victor, Goff, John and Anna helping to cover the 10 stages in Slieve Gullion and Camlough. 86 cars took part.
Gareth MacHale the youngest son of Austin took a surprising start to finish win on the Topaz Donegal International Rally. Twelve years since his dad last won the ITC classic, Gareth and co-driver Brian Murphy who sat with Austin in that 1997 win, dominated the 09 event leading in their 06 Ford Focus WRC from stage one on the Friday until they crossed the finish ramp on Fathers Day, the longest day of the year, Sunday 21st June. This was the young MacHale’s first major rally victory. Eugene Donnelly was second in his Skoda Fabia WRC while Sean Devine finished third in a Subaru S11. Victor, John, Anna and myself were timekeeping for the three days. We were on the finish of the class Malin Head, Fanad and Atlantic Drive stages. The first two days were dry but Sunday was wet and miserable.
Fri. 21st—Sun. 23rd. June
Joule Donegal International Rally
Based in Letterkenny as usual the only three-day event in Ireland is round five of the Irish Tarmac Championship. BMMC/BRMC members will be tiamekeeping for the three days.
Sat. 6th. July
Loughgall Country Park Rally
Open to all types of rally cars including four wheel drive this clubman event uses six short tarmac stages within the confines of Loughgall Country Park in Co. Armagh. Sponsored again by Rainbow Communications and organised by North Armagh Motor Club, BMMC/BRMC will be providing marshals and radio crews. Sign-on by 8am. Rally starts 09.30.