By Martin Walsh
On Saturday next (October 8th) the eighth and final round of the Triton Showers-backed Motorsport Ireland National Rally Championship, the Teac Bhillie Donegal Harvest Rally, brings competitors to one of the most northerly villages in Ireland – Gortahork – beneath the shadows of Mount Errigal in north west Donegal.
In a season where Monaghan’s Josh Moffett and his Wexford co-driver Andy Hayes (Hyundai i20 R5) wrapped up the series with six straight wins, there is still much to play for on this nine-stage event. Third overall, the rally.ie award, the Mk. 2 Challenge and various class positions will be determined in Donegal where, not surprisingly, it’s a capacity entry with some thirty crews on a reserve list.
Derry’s Callum Devine, who won last year’s event that was based in Donegal town, is the top seed in his VW Polo GTi R5. On the Donegal International Rally last June, he crashed out of the lead and that event remains unfinished business. However, “the Harvest” is also a much coveted event and he will be keen to defend his crown successfully. Former Triton champion Monaghan’s Sam Moffett will be one of his chief rivals, he will campaign a Ford Focus WRC and it will be interesting to see how it will compare with Devine’s R5.
Dubliner Robert Barrable (Ford Fiesta Rally2), seeded at number three, is already guaranteed runner-up spot in the Triton series but he will be aiming to follow up the acquisition of maximum points in Galway with a similar achievement in Donegal. Former triple national champion Declan Boyle (VW Polo GTi R5) will try and end the season on a high note after a number of non-finishes. It’s also been a patchy season for another ex-national champion Warrenpoint’s Peadar Hurson (Ford Fiesta WRC).
Dubliner Gareth MacHale, who took his right hand drive VW Polo GTi R5 to victory in Galway last August, will relish the competition in the north-west as he continues to get valuable seat time. Meanwhile, Omagh’s Seamus Leonard (Ford Fiesta Rally2) is another driver that hasn’t enjoyed the best of fortune this season. Problems on the opening rounds in Claremorris and Birr put a title bid on the back foot, a strong result in the Harvest could prompt a title bid next season.
The Donegal trio of Carndonagh’s Aaron McLaughlin (Ford Fiesta WRC), Muff’s Joe McGonigle (Ford Fiesta Rally2) and Eamonn Kelly (VW Polo GTi R5) round off the top ten. Kelly recently clinched the Junior category of the British Rally Championship and also a nomination for the 2022 Billy Coleman Young Rally Driver of the Year award. On his R5 debut in the opening Triton round in Claremorris last March, he netted a fine fifth overall, a similar result given the opposition, would be an equally fine achievement on Saturday next.
In a season where he gradually picked up his pace, Meath’s Tim McNulty (VW Polo GTi R5) a national champion eleven years ago, will be hoping to continue the trend on the nine stage rally.
The battle for third overall in the championship involves Monaghan’s Michael Carbin (Mitsubishi Evo VIII), Maynooth’s Paul Barrett (Citroen C3) and Castlederg’s Gareth Sayers (Ford Fiesta Rally2), all of whom are within a point of each other while top two-wheel drive contender Armagh’s Jason Black (Toyota Starlet) is seven points behind Sayers.
Barrett debuted Citroen C3 in Galway and the Donegal experience should help him get accustomed to the vagaries of his new car. It’s more likely that Black will concentrate on annexing the rally.ie award for the top two-wheel drive finisher in the national series – his rivals are the Ford Escort duo of Donegal’s Patrick McHugh and Limerick’s Ed O’Callaghan, however, both need Black to hit trouble to deny him the honour. O’Callaghan holds the aces in the quest for the Escort Mk. 2 Challenge Trophy where McHugh is his main rival, indeed, barring a major upset, O’Callaghan seems destined to win the category.
Meanwhile, the entry also features the Ford Fiesta R5 pair of Tyrone’s Aidan Wray and Cavan’s Stephen McCann while Donegal’s Michael Boyle will debut a VW Polo GTi R5.
In the two wheel drive category and apart from those previously mentioned, Donegal duo Kevin Gallagher (Darrian T90 GTR) and Kevin Eves (Toyota Corolla) will have Monaghan pair Gary McPhillips and Dessie Keenan along with Tyrone’s Adrian Hetherington, all in Escorts, as extra opposition.
Elsewhere, the strong Donegal contingent features Trevor Bustard (Mitsubishi EvoIX), PJ McDermott (Ford Fiesta WRC) and Stuart Darcy (Proton).
Former national champion Donagh Kelly will campaign a BMW M3 in the Historic category while former Irish Tarmac champion John Coyne will drive a Ford Fiesta Rally3, they are seeded at 42 and 89 respectively.
Within the various classes of the Triton series, Class 2 is nicely poised between Drumkeeran’s Keelan Grogan (Peugeot 208 R2) and Tyrone’s Dara Leonard (Ford Fiesta) while in Class 16, Cahir’s Joe Browne (Honda Civic) and Roscommon’s Darragh Kelly (Honda Civic) are vying for the class victory with Browne holding the advantage.
Seeded Top 10:
1 Callum Devine/Noel O’Sullivan (VW Polo GTI R5)
2 Sam Moffett/Conor Foley (Ford Fiesta WRC)
3 Robert Barrable/Paddy Robinson (Ford Fiesta Rally2)
4 Declan Boyle/James O’Reilly (VW Polo GTI R5)
5 Peadar Hurson/Damien Connolly (Ford Fiesta WRC)
6 Gareth MacHale/Brian Murphy (VW Polo GTI R5)
7 Seamus Leonard/John McCaffrey (Ford Fiesta Rally2)
8 Aaron McLaughlin/Darren Curran (Ford Fiesta WRC)
9 Joseph McGonigle/Ciaran Geaney (Ford Fiesta Rally2)
10 Eamonn Kelly/Conor Mohan (VW Polo GTI R5)
Teac Bhillie, Gortahork
First Car Away: 09.15
S.S. 1, 4 & 7 (Muckish – 4.06km): 10.16, 13.03 & 15.49
S.S. 2, 5 & 8 (Derryreel – 14.08km): 10.30; 13.17 & 16.03
S.S. 3, 6 & 9 (Moneymore – 16.68km) 11.01; 13.48 & 16.34
Service (Falcarragh) 09.24; 11.50 & 14.37
Finish Ramp (Scoil Fhionnain) Gortahork. 17.20
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