As ever the Donegal Rally generated a great deal of hype and sense of anticipation, so it was a big let down when last year’s winner and Donegal hero Garry Jennings retired his Subaru at the end of the very first stage, his Impreza WRC engine spewing out oil and smoke.
It was remarkable that Jennings was still second fastest on that opening Trentagh test, with Declan Boyle in his Ford Fiesta WRC the pacesetter, just over 2s to the good over Jennings. Donagh Kelly (Ford Focus WRC) and Manus Kelly, were third and fourth, just a few seconds further back.
Keith Cronin was the fastest of the R5s, with Alastair Fisher and Sam and Josh Moffett in tight formation behind, promising a real R5 tussle.
The first day was held west of Letterkenny, with mostly fast and bumpy roads typical of the event. Donagh Kelly snatched the lead from Boyle on stage two, but by service after stage three Boyle was again in front, by less than 2s from Donagh Kelly, with Manus Kelly in his Subaru a solid third just 5s back. Considering this was only Manus’ second time in a World Rally Car, his performance was astounding, and reinforced his victory first time out on the Carlow Stages Rally in May.
Following a cold damp morning, but with the ambient temperature rising by lunch time, most of the top drivers reckoned that they had picked softer tyres than required. Keith Cronin was fourth overall and best R5 after stage three. He, as did nearly everyone else, chose a harder compound for the late afternoon stages. A delay at the start of stage four meant the tyres going cold, and on a fast right hander his Citroen broke away, clipped a bank and sustained a puncture. Sam Moffett got held up slightly when he caught the struggling Citroen. The puncture cost Cronin over a minute and left Alastair Fisher leading the R5s. Coincidentally Fisher reported that he felt a lot more comfortable through the latter stages and his times improved noticeably. The points leader in the Tarmac Championship starting the rally, Fisher maintained that he was driving just as fast as he felt comfortable with in his Dom Buckley-prepared Fiesta.
At day’s end Boyle led Donagh Kelly by just under 7s overall. Boyle was covered in perspiration after that sixth stage. He maintained that he needed to drive extra hard in his 1600cc car to combat the two-litre WRC machines. Donagh Kelly was as cool as ever, while Manus Kelly, still a strong third, remarked that he regretted not pushing harder over the final few Friday stages. Seamus Leonard in the hired Mckinstry Subaru lost time on the first stage of the day when he both stalled the Impreza and also forgot to switch it from road to stage mode. He charged hard to drag himself up to fourth by day’s end, with Alastair Fisher fifth and Sam Moffett sixth. Josh Moffett was seventh, 11s behind his brother Sam and reported no problems. Keith Cronin had improved from ninth to eighth, while his team-mate Jonny Greer had a steady run to ninth. Seven-time Tarmac champion Eugene Donnelly rounded out the top 10, having not competed in Donegal since 2009.
Subaru Impreza WRC S12 Citroen DS 3 R5 Ford Fiesta R5 Ford Fiesta R5 Ford Fiesta R5 Ford Fiesta R5 Skoda Fabia S2000 Mitsubishi Lancer E9 Mitsubishi Lancer E9 Opel Adam