MINI DONEGAL VICTORY FOR PRINGLE
Organiser: Donegal Motor Club When: January 30 Where: Letterkenny County, Donegal Stages: 6 Starters: 100.
Cavan man Jonathan Pringle kicked his 2016 rally campaign off in the best manner by taking his Millington-engined Ford Escort Mk2 to victory on the challenging Donegal Mini Stages.
Co-driven by Alan Keena, Pringle’s margin of victory was 16.6s after six stages.
The format of the non-championship event was two decent length quality asphalt stages, each done three times, with service at the Clanree Hotel in Letterkenny between each loop. The weather was difficult with sleet and snow covering the roads.
The planned opening stage didn’t run, partly as a precaution because of the road conditions, but also because of a small glitch with the radio communications. This meant that, at first service, the crews had only completed one stage. Damien Tourish/ Domnhall Mcaleaney in their two-litre Ford Escort Mk 2 led from Ryan Loughran/james Mccarville, also in an Escort. Tourish said that it was slippery in places, but that he had no real trouble and perhaps the two-litre, as opposed to the 2.5-litre Escorts, was an advantage in the tricky conditions.
Certainly some of the top drivers in the bigger-engined cars had early dramas. Gary Mcphillips – second on the road – got caught out on a narrow slippy section between junctions 11 and 12 when a back wheel caught a ditch. The car slewed around and got stuck, a rear-wheel puncture not helping the situation. Five cars got caught behind the blockage, including frontrunners such as Wesley Patterson, Brian Brogan and Pringle. They were all given notional times for the stage.
For stage three, most of the top drivers chose an open pattern wet tyre to combat the slushy conditions.
Pringle said after the opening stage that he was pleased with his pace and felt comfortable, until he got stopped behind the Mcphillips accident. He certainly reinforced that pace with a stunning run through stage three. Subaru Impreza driver Frank Wray responded on stage four with a quickest time, but only by a fraction. Wray had spun on an earlier stage.
When the cars came into second service, Pringle led Wray by 5.8s, with Loughran still very much in the hunt and only a further 2.7s back. Donegal man Joe Mcgonigle, in his Skoda Fabia S2000, couldn’t be discounted either, just another 6.7s behind. Mcgonigle admitted that with next weekend’s Galway International in mind, he was trying to look after his car. Aidan Wray in his Mitsubishi Lancer led Group N, from the Lancer of Pat Kirk.
On the penultimate stage, Wray retired his Subaru with a broken wheel handing second to Loughran – but, more importantly, giving Pringle a clear run to victory. He set the fastest time on the stage, before Mcgonigle took the fastest time on the last stage in an eventful end to the day. Despite his caution, Mcgonigle had damaged the bumper and bonnet of his Fabia against a bale while overshooting a junction on the penultimate test.
It proved costly for the Skoda man as he ended the day just 0.4s down on Loughran to round out the podium finishers.
Reiging Irish Tarmac and National champion Donagh Kelly was a class winner in his Pinto-engined Ford Escort. He took class 12 and 18th overall with son Eamon in the co-driver’s seat.
Results 1 Jonathan Pringle/alan Keena (Ford Escort Mk2) 38m50.8s; 2 Ryan Loughran/james Mccarville (Ford Escort Mk2) +16.6s; 3 Joe Mcgonigle/ Ciaran Geaney (Skoda Fabia S2000); 4 Brian Brogan/ Damian Mcgettigan (Ford Escort); 5 Damian Gallagher/ Brendan Mcelhinney (Ford Escort); 6 Camillus Bradley/ Crawford Henderson (Ford Escort); 7 Wesley Patterson/johnny Baird (Ford Escort); 8 Aidan Wray/ Kieran Mcgrath (Mitsubishi Lancer E10); 9 John Bonner/ Leon Jordan (Ford Escort); 10 Paul Purtill/ Raymond Scott (Ford Escort)