Ir­ish Tar­mac cham­pion will drive Mini Cooper WRC in June

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By Jack Benyon

Ir­ish Tar­mac cham­pi­onship leg­end Eu­gene Don­nelly says be­ing in­volved in the deal to se­cure Craig Breen a win­ning en­try on the Cir­cuit of Ire­land in April spurred his ral­ly­ing come­back.

Don­nelly will re­turn to the Done­gal Rally for the first time since 2009 driv­ing a Mcgee­han Mo­tor­sport Mini Cooper WRC on the event from June 17-19.

The five-time Ir­ish Tar­mac cham­pion played a vi­tal role in se­cur­ing Craig Breen and Scott Martin’s en­try to the Cir­cuit of Ire­land. His com­pany, Lake­land Tyres, backed the duo, who went on to win the event and in­spire Don­nelly to com­pete again.

“There’s no doubt about it that pushed me to re­turn,” said Don­nelly. “Be­ing in­volved with Craig is a dif­fer­ent level. Craig is en­ter­ing the peak of his ca­reer, he’s ma­tured over the past cou­ple of years, and I’ve had the priv­i­lege of work­ing with him over a few years and I think he’s a truly ex­cep­tional driver.”

Don­nelly is also looking for­ward to re­turn­ing to one of his favourite ral­lies at a time when the sport in the coun­try ap­pears to be in good health.

“There’s a great at­mos­phere around Ir­ish ral­ly­ing at the mo­ment,” he said. “You have Kris [Meeke] win­ning the week­end be­fore last [in Por­tu­gal], Craig [Breen] do­ing very well and he has the deal with Citroen, you have the R5 se­ries work­ing well. You look at Alas­tair [Fisher, ITRC cham­pi­onship leader] and Keith [Cronin], the spec­ta­cle they’re putting into R5, plus Sam and Josh Mof­fett, those guys have got be­hind R5 and it’s great to see.”

The for­mer cham­pion isn’t ex­pect­ing to be on the pace in the 1.6-litre Mini Cooper WRC, aim­ing at the R5s as a com­pet­i­tive ref­er­ence point.

“I know that I’ll not be com­pet­i­tive, I’ll be lucky to stay around the R5 pace,” he said. “But it’s a case of tak­ing part in the event and soak­ing up the at­mos­phere. As far as Bri­tain and Ire­land, it’s prob­a­bly the best at­tended event out­side of Rally GB.”

Breen will miss the rally through WRC com­mit­ments, de­spite hav­ing ap­peared on the ini­tial en­try list.

Much has been writ­ten on MN’S pages of the Welsh for­est ral­ly­ing cri­sis, and I feel it’s time to look back, take stock and pro­vide some thought on what’s next over the com­ing weeks.

If you haven’t fol­lowed the cri­sis, here’s a quick re­fresher. The Mo­tor Sports As­so­ci­a­tion pays a fee to Na­tional Re­sources Wales for the use of its forests for ral­ly­ing. NRW is claim­ing that the fee it cur­rently re­ceives is £300,000 less than it ac­tu­ally spends on repairing the roads and that it wants to re­coup those costs. That would send rally en­try fees through the roof and ef­fec­tively end ral­ly­ing in Wales, on NRW land at least.

Let me start by say­ing that any an­i­mos­ity to NRW over at­tempt­ing to re­coup there costs is un­wel­come. Yes, Welsh ral­ly­ing brings in £16 mil­lion a year to the econ­omy, but NRW doesn’t see that di­rectly. It’s merely a govern­ment body looking to solve a black hole in its bud­get. I doubt any­one would do any­thing dif­fer­ent in its sit­u­a­tion.

Here’s where my grief lies. NRW hasn’t re­vealed how much it paid to the con­trac­tors that did the re­grad­ing and resur­fac­ing in its forests in 2015. Could it be done cheaper? Un­til we know how much was spent, how can we know that ral­ly­ing is get­ting a fair deal?

There’s also the is­sue of qual­ity. I’ve re­ported on nu­mer­ous Welsh ral­lies over the past 10 months and a re­cur­ring theme is that road sur­faces are get­ting worse, and not just for crews at the back. Rough stages ap­pear to be the cur­rent norm.

That’s usu­ally down to poor or in­suf­fi­cient re­grad­ing work and over-us­age of the for­est, and hereby lies an­other is­sue. If roads are in poor con­di­tion, why are we hav­ing ral­lies on the same stages a month or two apart?

That’s quite a rap sheet, granted, but there’s plenty of facets here and blam­ing NRW doesn’t wash. If the Welsh Assem­bly un­der­writes the bud­get deficit of NRW, it could be cat­a­strophic. It sets a prece­dent that for­est own­ers (pri­vate or govern­ment linked) can charge what­ever they like. The real is­sue is how much is be­ing spent on repairing the roads, how well it’s done and how of­ten we use them.

So, Welsh Govern­ment; can we have an en­quiry into how much NRW is spend­ing on rally-re­lated re­pairs? MSA; let’s have an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how many times a route is used and the pe­riod of time be­tween it. Do we need to limit us­age at a gov­ern­ing body-level?

And peo­ple; make sure you’re aware of the facts and are lob­by­ing the above. It may be a while since this news broke, but that’s even more rea­son to keep cam­paign­ing. We can’t af­ford for this move­ment to burn out. Keep the pres­sure on and lets drive the cam­paign to the next level.

Photos: Roy Demp­ster, FIA ERC

Don­nelly com­peted in his Skoda Fabia WRC in 2009 Mini Cooper WRC ready for re­turn­ing Don­nelly Don­nelly was cru­cial in Breen’s deal for 2016 Cir­cuit of Ire­land

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