The final day had six stages, starting with a very wet High Glen. Just 33s covered the top four drivers. Manus Kelly was fastest, by 9s from Keith Cronin. Manus was on a huge charge, but Cronin said he had a bit left. Overnight leader Sam Moffett said he ‘took no risks’ and although he set a decent time he still slipped from first to third.
Seamus Leonard clipped a front corner of his Subaru but he still led the rally. On the following stage, the dramatic Atlantic Drive, Cronin was remarkably fastest in the R5 car and moved into the lead, with Seamus Leonard holding second.
The third stage of the Sunday loop, the always tricky 12.26-mile Fanad Head test, provided many dramas. There is one long, very fast section, with many chicanes, and Manus Kelly put his WRC power and traction to good use going 18s faster than Cronin. Keith still led, but his advantage over the Subaru pilot was reduced to just 9s. Sam Moffett held on to third, but was 15s back from Cronin. Many drivers came unstuck, including Seamus Leonard, Jonny Greer and Joe Mcgonigle – all stuck in ditches and out of the rally.
The afternoon should have been a repeat of the three morning stages, but the first of them, High Glen, didn’t run because an electric pole had been felled by a late runner on the first loop. On the penultimate stage, Atlantic Drive, Cronin was able to hold Manus Kelly at bay, and indeed was fastest by just over 1s giving the Citroen driver a small gap of 9.3s. Would it be enough?
On the final stage, the rerun of Fanad, Manus Kelly gave it everything he had and was almost 10s faster than Cronin to win by 0.5s. Cronin’s cause was not helped when his Citroen lost fuel pressure. The stage claimed another high profile scalp – Eugene Donnelly had been fifth but banged his Mini WRC into the scenery and burst the radiator – a disappointing end to his rally.
But at the end it was all smiles for Kelly, who’d stolen a fairytale win. Cronin held second for maximum overall Irish Tarmac points and an epic fightback, as Sam Moffett, finishing third, now ties with Alastair Fisher in the standings after he recovered to an impressive sixth overall. The fight for a new Tarmac champion is on, but Manus Kelly and his car named ‘Mandy’ were the heroes of Donegal.