Manus Kelly and Donall Barrett have completed a remarkable hat-trick of Donegal International Rally titles.
Kelly and Barrett took a historic third successive win on the event after a weekend of high drama across 20 of Donegal’s most testing stretches of tar.
Picture: Manus Kelly and Donall Barrett celebrate their winning of the 2018 Joule Donegal International Rally. Picture by Brian McDaid.
Kelly and Barrett had 42.4 seconds to spare on Sam Moffett after a weekend that saw all of Donagh Kelly, Declan Boyle, Darren Gass and Garry Jennings either crash out or retire due to mechanical problems.
Kelly and Barrett become the first Donegal crew to do a three-in-a-row and as they pop the champagne’s corks and stand on the bonnet of the Melvyn Evans-hired WRC Impreza, it is the fourth consecutive year they’ve tasted glory.
Before stepping into the WRC machinery for the first time in 2016, Kelly and Barrett were the National Rally champions in a Mk2 Escort in 2015.
This crew now joins the pantheon of legendary figures to conquer this epic rally.
Cahal Curley, in 1972, ’73 and ’74, won the first three Donegal International Rallies, while Billy Coleman tasted glory in 1984, ’85 and ’86, in a different car each year – a Manta 400, a Porsche 911 and an MG Metro.
Kelly had almost a minute-and-a-half to spare after a drama and tension-filled Saturday.
As he left Parc Ferme on Sunday morning, Kelly would’ve been mindful of those, like John Lyons, Bertie Fisher, Andrew Nesbitt, Eugene Donnelly and Gareth McHale, who had won two-in-a-row, but hadn’t managed the hat-trick.
“We aren’t thinking about history or anything like that,” Kelly said at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology before starting Sunday’s stages.
“We are focussed on getting to the end of High Glen. We don’t underestimate this rally.”
He was able to steer home without incident and, as he stepped out of the car at Coole Chapel, on the end of the Glen stage, Kelly truly was the ling of Donegal.
Moffett overhauled his brother Josh on Sunday to take second spot and crucial points for the Irish Tarmac Championship.
On Sunday morning, Josh had the upper hand by 12.8 seconds, but Sam cut the times and on the first loop of High Glen he climbed into second. A magnificent Sunday by Sam gave him a 22.2 second win over his sibling.
Robert Duggan, like the Moffetts, who was also in an R5 Fiesta, was up from Kerry to compete in Donegal for the first time, and he had a superb weekend, finishing fourth overall.
County Derry’s young up-and-coming driver Callum Devine was fifth overall and another icon of the Donegal stages, Eugene Donnelly – in the Diver’s Hyundai-backed i20, was sixth and even set a fastest time on Saturday evening.
But the weekend belonged to Kelly and Barrett. The Glenswilly-Milford partnership had a 9.3 second lead over Declan Boyle and James O’Reilly after the first six stages on Friday and were fastest on four of Friday’s six stages.
But they weren’t without drama either. On SS2, Cark, the Impreza spun, costing them 20 seconds having been seven seconds quicker on SS1, Breenagh.
Boyle seemed well poised to make a push on Saturday, but the Lettermacaward man was one of the high-profile withdrawals on day two, with gearbox issue in the WRC Fiesta meaning he was unable to continue.
Jennings – who led by 11 seconds at the first service on Friday afternoon – had a big warning on Friday when the front passenger wheel punctured on the Cark stage, handing the lead back to Kelly and Barrett.
Jennings and Kennedy were in third spot after Friday and were fastest on the first four of Saturday’s stages – the two loops of Carnhill and Knockalla – but they came unstuck on Gartan, rolling the Impreza on a square left. It was certainly a gut-wrenching disappointment as Jennings and Rory Kennedy – a four-time winner as a navigator – were a crew on the push at the time.
Donagh Kelly seemed to arrive in Donegal with a renewed drive to win Donegal – the one event that has eluded the Frosses man, who has been so successful all over the land.
He’d been the rally leader last year and seemed on the verge of glory when he crashed out, but he left the 2018 version on the third stage, Letterleague. Donagh and Conor Foley hardly had time to bed in the Focus when, at the mucky and notorious Woods’ corner, they left the road and left the rally.
Darren Gass had been well in touch, but a big overshoot on SS6, Letterleague, put him back by 20 seconds on Friday and, when well placed on Saturday, their weekend shuddered to a halt on Carnhill.
But when it was all done and dusted, it was all about one crew and one car: ST56 SRT, over the finish ramp first yet again.Tags: