AS 2016 SEES the R5/S2000 class of rally cars as the primary category eligible for Championship points, Donegal gets a first look at some of the new machines next weekend.
Over 100 entries have already been confirmed – 104 at the last count – for the 2016 Clanree Hotel Donegal Mini Stages Rally, hosted by the Donegal Motor Club.
The presence on the start line of the likes of Alastair Fisher, Desi Henry and Brendan Cumiskey, for example, is both a pointer to a competitive year ahead and, yet again, Donegal’s standing in the sport.
“Donegal is the king of them all as regards events,” as Brian Brogan, the Motor Club Chairman and a ferocious competitor, put it.
“It’s not easy to get gathered up at the start of the year, but it’s really encouraging to see this level of entry.”
Picture caption: Karl Reid, Clerk of the Course, Brian Brogan, Chairman Donegal Motor Club, Caroline Robinson, Restaurant/Duty Manager, Clanree Hotel, Letterkenny and Leonard Wilson, Deputy Clerk of the Course at last night’s launch.
The local favourites will there in their droves and the Motor Club has confirmed that entries are still being accepted.
But it is the likes of Fisher, Henry and Cumiskey, not to mention Muff man Joseph McGonigle in the Skoda Fabia S2000, second in the Championship last year, who have the appetites whetted.
Crews have been getting packages together for 2016 over the last couple of months and next weekend’s event in Donegal will be the first glimpse of some of them.
For instance, Cumiskey – seeded at seventh – is in the R5 Fiesta for the first time having switched from an Evo 9, while Desi Henry, the fifth seed, goes in an R5+ Skoda.
Fisher, nephew of the late Bertie Fisher, heads the leaderboard and has the experience of Gordon Noble on the notes in an R5+ Fiesta.
“Donegal gets the first look at them,” said Clerk of the Course Karl Reid at last night’s official launch in the Clanree Hotel.
“It’s great to have them here for the testing and it’ll be good to see them testing against the Mark 2 men.
“I had some interesting calls from teams wanting to enter some of the new homologated ‘R+’ cars.
“These are recent additions, so recent that there was a special meeting called by Motorsport Ireland to determine if they could run in our event. They got the OK and I believe that will set a standard for the remainder of the motorsport calendar this year.”
Ballybofey’s Martin Doherty, with Damien McCauley alongside him in the Evo 9, is second on the list, for an event he won on its last running, when he took victory at Ballyliffin in 2013.
The presence of the current Irish Tarmac champion Donagh Kelly at number 48 in the entry list, at the wheel of a Mark 2 Escort, adds plenty of interest and another top-class entry.
The Frosses man scooped the Clonakility Black Pudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship and the Triton Showers National Rally Championship in 2015, but this time he swaps the WRC Focus for an Escort and will have Eamonn Kelly calling the notes.
Gary McPhillips is back in Donegal having enjoyed a couple of big battles across the county’s tarmacadam with Manus Kelly in recent years. Kelly goes here in an Escort loaned by Vincent Collins, who acts as his co-pilot next weekend.
The images of an emotional and ecstatic Kelly and navigator Donall Barrett atop an Escort at the Mount Errigal Hotel after winning the National event at the Donegal Rally last June are engrained in the mind.
‘Mandy’ gets back behind the wheel next weekend to renew rivalry with McPhillips, the Glenswilly man showing the familiar glint in the eye ahead of another go.
“When it’s in the blood, it’s in the blood,” Kelly said.
“Last year was the stuff of dreams. Even yet, when I look over the photographs it brings a tear to my eye. When you come here and see what rallying means to people, it gives you the spark and I’m definitely looking to June again.”
Two special stages will each be run twice and the event totals over 90km in road mileage, the full maximum distance.
Both stages have been run before, with Dooish previously done in 2012 and Glenmaquin last tackled in 2007. As a mark of their standing, these are stages that have been used in the Donegal International Rally in the past.
“We are over the moon about the entry received over the past few weeks and, although we were concerned about the event so close to Christmas, we are so pleased to have this level of interest, which now stands at over 100 cars,” Reid said.
“Our local entry has not let us down and, with some added spice of the very new R5+ class, this will be the icing on the cake and a real treat for spectators.”
Reid thanked the Donegal County Council and An Garda Síochana for their assistance and appealed for competitors and spectators to respect the residents and their properties.
He added: “Safety is always our key priority during this event. A comprehensive safety plan has been compiled and approved by our governing body, Motorsport Ireland.
“I would appeal to everyone to fully co-operate with the officials, who are there for everyone’s safety.
“I wish to thank the residents along the rally route for their co-operation. I hope that they all have a safe an enjoyable day and we will strive to keep the inconvenience to a minimum.”
The COC also paid tribute to the title sponsors and event hosts, The Clanree Hotel: “We are very pleased to have the Clanree Hotel as the title sponsor for the event. Their support is very much appreciated. The management and staff of the hotel have been tremendous in their assistance with the event to date.”
|1||Alastair Fisher||Gordon Noble||Tyrone||Fiesta R5+||20|
|2||Martin Doherty||Damien McCauley||Ballybofey||Evo 9||4|
|4||Gary McPhillips||Paul Sheridan||Monaghan||Escort||14|
|5||Desi Henry||Liam Moynihan||Portglenone||Skoda R5+||20|
|6||Joseph McGonigle||Ciaran Geaney||Muff||Skoda Fabia||5|
|7||Brendan Cumiskey||Ronan O’Kane||Monaghan||Fiesta||20|
|8||Wesley Patterson||Johnny Baird||Lisburn||Escort||14|
|9||Brian Brogan||Damian McGettigan||Letterkenny||Escort||14|
|11||Chris Armstrong||Chris Melly||Cavan||Escort||13|
|12||Manus Kelly||Vincent Collins||Glenswilly||Escort||12|
|14||Damien Toner||Denver Rafferty||Armagh||Escort||14|
|15||Damian Gallagher||Brendan McElhinney||Letterkenny||Escort||14|
|16||Damien Tourish||Domhnall McEleaney||Ballybofey||Escort||13|
|17||David Condell||Eugene McGrath||Carlow||Escort||14|
|18||Camillus Bradley||Crawford Henderson||Draperstown||Escort||14|
|19||Aidan Wray||TBA||Strabane||Evo 10||4|
|20||Pat Kirk||John McElhinney||Strabane||Evo 9||14|