Donegal Daily’s motoring columnist Brian McDaid was in Galway at the weekend at a very slippery Championship opener where Damien Tourish had more success with an overall win in the National section.
With wheel guns rattling all around the place and horns of rally cars herding excited spectators aside as they make their way through the mart yard in Athenry on a wet Sunday morning.
A young Dean Sweeney quietly concentrates on the job in hand.
Kitted out in a hoodie, high viz and gloves he cuts through the layers of mud on the side of the rally car.
In there he has to find the door plate number. Turning a cloth over to find a cleaner part he reveals the number 25 then cleans the mud off the writing identifying the event, “Galway International Rally 2019”, before finishing off by cleaning the mud from the event sponsors name Corrib Oil.
He repeats the process on the driver’s door and cleans the taillights and rear number plate.
He was just one of the local crew that looked after Damien Tourish’s Escort which was the overall winner in the national section of the Galway rally at the weekend.
Three or four service slots up the mart yard, rally car number five was nearly finished its service. Gordon Noble enjoys a yarn with a few spectators and other competitors.
It’s possible that he has competed on more Galway rallies than anyone taking part in the event this weekend. He may be navigating in one of the top cars in the rally today but, would think nothing and relish competing on any clubs night navigation rally.
I have seen Gordon sitting on the start line at Harley’s of Trentagh for the Navigation Night Rally in Donegal with the likes of the late Eamon Harvey, plotting and dashing their way through a winters night.
“Are you right there Al” he calls over to his driver as he climbs over the roll cage down to his office seat for the day.
Placed as low to the floor of the car as possible to give this state of the art rally car the lowest centre of gravity.
As they leave the service area the two rally cars look completely different and not alone are in two different classes but are in two different rallies in the same event on the same day.
The car that young Dean Sweeney is working on at the rally is a classic the iconic Mk 2 Escort.
It’s running in the modified class in the national rally section of the event. Damien Tourish is at the wheel with Domhnaill McAleany co-driving.
The car that Gordon Noble is navigating in is a Fiesta and like the Escort also a Ford, it’s in the R5 class and is running in the international rally part of the Irish Rally Tarmac Championship (IRTC).
Alastair Fisher is behind the wheel in this car, both drivers competed on the same very slippery stages last Sunday in two different types of rallying technology. Tourish in a rear-wheel drive and normally aspirated engine, Fisher is in four-wheel drive with a turbo boast powered engine.
Both lead their respective rally early on in the event in a similar type of driving style, both having a great ability to carry speed.
On Sunday Morning, Alastair took the lead in the event from a hard-charging Gary Jennings and Rory Kennedy on the notes, a lead that was swapped four times between them and Craig Breen with Paul Nagle before Jennings slipped off the road and Breen went on to win by just 14 seconds from Fisher.
Meanwhile, Tourish who was fresh from an outright rally win in Cork at the end of 2018, leads the opening round of national rally in Galway on Sunday right from the start. On one stage, he took 17 seconds out of everyone else, going on to win the national rally by over a minute and four seconds to spare.
The Great Bertie Fisher
The big connection for me with the Galway on Sunday was thinking about watching the event when I was not many years older than young Dean Sweeney, who today is helping out on Tourish’s Mk2 Escort.
The sight of the iconic shape of the Escort Airborne heading into a junction at speed reminds me of watching the late Bertie Fisher (Alastair’s uncle) in an ex-Ford Works wide track Monte Carlo Spec RS 1800 nearly 40 years ago.
Back then Fisher was my hero but unlike the way Damien Tourish had control of his Escort on the Galway Rally Bertie Fisher, he wasn’t his usual self in his new Ford.
I think he even went back to his old Fermanagh registered Escort CIL 999 later that year and sold his new Ford to Vincent Bonner, who went onto win, partnered by Seamus Mc Gettigan, as the first ever all Donegal Crew to win Donegal International in 1983.
Manus takes the rap
The 2019 Galway Rally had very slippy tight stages and were challenging for everyone with Donegal’s Manus Kelly suffering the worst as he got to grips with his new left-hand drive Hyundai I-20.
Kelly took all the blame for his teams performance on Sunday suggesting that a lot more seat time is needed behind the wheel of this new car.
The car is amazing with far better ability in both braking and corning than his old Subaru.
Manus had a big moment on one of the early stages which rattled his confidence from the limited time he had behind the wheel of his first left-hand drive rally car.
Then he broke a shock on a big jump on stage five having to nurse the car through five and six until he got back into service in Athenry.
Looking on the positive side, Kelly did manage to get up as far as four or five seconds off the rally leader Craig Breen’s time on one of the stages but, he was glad to see the finish in one piece.
Talking to Donegal Daily this week, Kelly was upbeat and looking forward to going to Cork for the next round of the championship where he hopes there will be a lot more grip.
The treble winner of the Donegal International was also full of praise for Philip Case Rally Sport (PCRS) a local company who are based in Letterkenny and are preparing the car for Kelly and Barrett’s championship for 2019.
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