All motorsport eyes will be on the hills of Donegal this weekend, as Ireland’s largest sporting event rolls into Letterkenny for what is sure to be another classic.
The 2019 Joule Donegal International Rally takes in a gruelling 20 stages, getting underway on Friday afternoon and coming to a finish on Sunday evening.
Because of the prestige and glamour of the Donegal rally, winning this event means everything to crews. Many of the Championship runners have left their R5 cars at home and have brought the more powerful WRC spec cars to Letterkenny, therefore sacrificing their championship points on Round 5.
Those taking the hit are second on the road Craig Breen and his Killarney navigator Paul Nagle. They have rented a Ford Fiesta WRC from Melvyn Evans in Wales for the weekends action. The pair are no strangers to a WRC spec vehicle, adding about 90 Break Horsepower to their challenge in Donegal.
There’s a total of 14 WRC cars due on the start line in Letterkenny on Friday morning. Local favourites Donagh Kelly and Declan Boyle won’t be leaving Breen and Nagle have it all their own way this weekend. Gary Jennings Subaru Impreza has the pace to challenge, but having reliability issues of late, he will be relying on the car surviving the weekend to have a chance here. Sam Moffett is the lucky one of the two brothers to have the Combilift Fiesta WRC for the weekend, while Desi Henry had his first run out in his Fiesta 2 weeks ago in Cavan, a Northern Irish man who finished third in the Rally of the Lakes last month.
But could the race to win the rally impact on the championship? That’s where the R5s come into play. Manus Kelly, the winner in Donegal for an unprecedented 3 times in a row, recently sold his Impreza WRC. The recently elected councillor, who won the Rally of the Lakes last year, takes his brand new Hyundai i20 R5 from Glenswilly. Second in the championship Alastair Fisher has opted to stick to his R5 this weekend. If he takes full points (17), he will close the gap to Breen and Nagle at the top to a single point with two rounds to come in Ulster and Cork. Callum Devine, who impressed in Killarney should be on the pace again in Donegal, while the second of the Moffett brothers, Josh, will tackle the event in their R5.
Kerry’s interest doesn’t stop at Paul Nagle this weekend. Kevin O Donoghue and Timmy Kelly bring their Ford Escort Mark 2 and enter in the Class 14 section of the rally, up against some of the very best in the Modified championship. Kevin currently lies in 5th position in the championship and a strong finish in Donegal would be a huge boost ahead of the final events. His son Colin O Donoghue, who previously lived in Donegal is the first seeded car in the Junior section, Eddie Doherty is on the notes in their Ford Escort Mark 2.
Irelands only 3 day rally attracts entries from all over the world, with 207 cars due on the start line on Friday. A stand out driver down along the field is Ken Block. A former WRC driver who’s exuberant driving style has garnered a huge number of internet hits over the last number of years. He is travelling to Ireland for the first time in his Ford Escort Cosworth as part of his ‘Cossie World Tour’. An entertaining driver who should bring even higher numbers to the hills of Donegal, possibly adding to the 100’000 expected for the weekend.