EUGENE DONNELLY RETURNS TO DONEGAL ACTION AFTER SEVEN YEARS
Irish Tarmac champion will drive Mini Cooper WRC in June
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.
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