Last year’s winner Gareth MacHale and his co-driver Brian Murphy in their Focus WRC head a star studded entry on this 18th – 20th June Topaz Donegal International Rally. With drivers such as Tim McNulty and Derek McGarrity in their Subaru Impreza WRC’s seeded just behind Gareth, there promises to be quite a rally in store.
Perhaps just as heartening is the presence of several brilliant young drivers in the top ten, up and coming stars who will give the ‘old hands’ a real run for their money over the course of the promised three days of high speed competition on this Topaz Donegal Rally.
The rally is about more than the top drivers of course. 151 cars plus reserves are entered in the main field. Also there are over 20 juniors as well as 14 historic crews. Once again the rally, in this it’s 38th year, promises to be a huge and enjoyable event for locals and visitors alike.
This year the inclusion of a town special stage, a blast through the streets of Buncrana just after 5 o’clock on Friday afternoon of the 18th should prove an extra attraction. This adds to the burden of organisation of course, but the Donegal Motor Club under the direction of Clerk of the Course Danny Gormley, along with the hundreds of experienced volunteers who make the rally happen, are well up to the job.
Detailed plans have been drawn up as regards the safety and comfort of spectators and competitors alike, not just regarding the new Buncrana town stage, but for all of the 20 special stages.
Safety is very much on the mind of sponsors Topaz also, and as well emphasising the importance of the rally to the region, Topaz CEO Eddie O’Brien, who is from Buncrana, commented, “A huge amount of work goes into making this rally run smoothly every year and great credit is due to the club and all the volunteers for their commitment. For example I know the club puts a huge emphasis on safety every year and works in close co-operation with An Garda Siochana and the other emergency services. Ensuring the safety of the drivers and spectators is our number one priority. Driver safety is also a priority for Topaz and the company is working closely with the Road Safety Authority on a number of initiatives. Topaz is delighted to support this fantastic event and we are looking forward to another highly successful rally again this year.”
For all the drivers on the rally success is the key. For the top seeds especially the chance of going into the history books as a Donegal Rally winner is a huge driving force, while for the class contestants, winning an award is just as important.
There will be a special flair to the rally this year as legendary Monte Carlo Rally winner Paddy Hopkirk and world famous song writer and musician Phil Coulter will help to flag the cars over the start ramp outside Letterkenny’s An Grianan Theatre at 10.15 on Friday morning the 18th.
All the cars will go over the ramp and the first 10 seeds are:-
Gareth MacHale/Brian Murphy (Focus WRC)
Tim McNulty/Paul Kiely (Subaru Impreza WRC)
Derek McGarrity/James McKee (Subaru Impreza WRC)
Keith Cronin/Barry McNulty (Lancer Evo 10)
Sean Devine/Robert McDaid (Subaru Impreza WRC)
Aaron MacHale/Eugene O’Donnell (Focus WRC)
Alastair Fisher/Rory Kennedy (Lancer Evo 9)
Craig Breen/Gareth Roberts (Fiesta S2000)
Daragh O’Riordan/Tony McDaid Subaru Impreza WRC)
10. PJ McDermott/Francis Regan (Subaru Impreza WRC)
Since winning the Topaz Donegal International this time last year Gareth MacHale has had some great rally success. However a dominant start for Gareth this season with a win in Galway has been tempered by an electrical gremlin in his Focus on the Circuit of Ireland and then a blown engine on the Killarney Rally of the Lakes.
As Gareth prepares for this Donegal Rally he commented, “I’m looking forward to it. The engine in my Focus is all sorted. I think Donegal is raising the bar again with a town stage and the strength of the entry shows the popularity of the event.”
Tim McNulty has also had mechanical disappointments with his car this season and although he has had wins in West Cork and Cavan this year, the No.2 seed is trebling his efforts and determination to win in Donegal. Derek McGarrity at No.3 seems to have found his second wind this season as witnessed by his performance in winning the Circuit of Ireland, and he would dearly love to put his name on the Topaz Donegal winner’s Trophy.
British Rally Champion Keith Cronin starts at 4 in a GpN Lancer Evo 10. This will be his first run in this Lancer, so Keith will be in at the deep end a little, but this young West Cork man is just so talented, so world class, that he could surprise many of the established stars.
Sean Devine is at 5 in his Impreza WRC, and Sean doesn’t exactly hang around either when he gets behind the wheel of his Subaru. Interestingly Sean has former Donegal Rally Results Officer, Robert McDaid, co-driving, while Robert’s son Tony is co-driving for Cork man Daragh O’Riordan, also in an Impreza WRC, at 9. That little needle match should make for some interesting light conversation in the McDaid household! Aaron MacHale, in an older model Focus WRC to his brother Gareth, starts at 6 just one place on the road ahead of Alastair Fisher.
Now there’s a name – the Fisher name – synonymous with the legendary annals of this Donegal Rally. Alastair even has Rory Kennedy, the most successful co-driver in Donegal, reading the notes. Alastair will be driving his usual GpN Lancer and leads the Citroen backed Tarmac Championship points table, so will be anxious both to get to the finish on Sunday evening, as well as score as many points as he can. It probably really is too much to expect that Alastair, in a GpN car, could possibly emulate his uncle, the late Bertie Fisher, with a win. But then in Donegal, you never know.
Another driver who could really shake the Donegal equation is young Craig Breen. In his Fiesta Super 2000 Craig led the recent Jim Clark International Rally until his Fiesta’s engine gave up. The car handles superbly, will have a new engine fitted for Donegal, and Craig now has great experience with this new breed of rally car. He has a great opportunity here. Daragh O’Riordan at 9 has been a breath of fresh air this year as he has settled in to ‘WRC motoring’ with his Subaru, and PJ McDermott at 10 is the local man with the knowledge and experience of the Donegal roads and has fantastic motivation to do well here.
That’s just a taster of the expected competition on rally weekend. A big part of the event as well will be the fight for modified honours, under the National banner. Scottish Champion David Bogie is seeded at No.18 in his Metro 6R4, sandwiched between the Escorts of Wesley Patterson and Manus Kelly with the Mk2 Escort of Phil Collins in close attendance. There are so many top Mk2 Escort drivers in the line-up they could make a brilliant rally all of their own!
The rally HQ hotel is the Mount Errigal and the start is from Letterkenny on Friday morning. The rally returns to Letterkenny after 6 stages for an overnight halt with the first car back at 19.57. Saturday restarts at 08.30 for 8 stages out towards Milford returning to Letterkenny at 19.08. The Sunday leg has 6 stages in the Downings region and the first cars leave parc ferme at 10.00 hrs, returning to the Mount Errigal Hotel finish ramp at 17.14.
The Historic cars will slot in behind the main field on the Saturday morning and then the Juniors on the Sunday morning. The top seed in the Historics is John Keatley/James McKeefry in their Porsche 911. The top seed in the Juniors is Anthony Hand/Aidan Boyle (Escort). The rally is also a round of the Citroen Racing Trophy and Michael Barrable/Damien Connolly in their C2R2 Max are the top Citroen seeds and start at No.49. The Citroens compete over all the stages.
At the press reception in Letterkenny’s Hegarty’s Ford Garage Clerk of the Course Danny Gormley made special mention of the huge number of volunteers, public and private bodies, the press, and many organisations who lend their weight and support to the event. The rally just couldn’t happen without all of their assistance.
Even on the day of the press conference the Garda Siochana were on hand to help with a special bit of filming by an RTE outside broadcast crew as four of the young star drivers – the ‘Four Musketeers’ – Keith Cronin, Alastair Fisher, Craig Breen and Jonny Greer, put on a show for the cameras as a rally preview. It was typical of the goodwill behind the rally that John Wolseley of Pro Motion even made a special trip from Dungannon to fit on-board cameras simply as a goodwill gesture.
For more information on the rally visit the rally website; www.donegalinternationalrally.com