Donagh Kelly may be the reluctant favourite to become the next Donegal winner of the Joule Donegal International Rally, but he is the form driver in the field.
The Frosses driver is most people’s favourite ahead of the 45th running of the biggest rally on the Irish calendar.
Five firsts and one second place finish from six outings seeDonagh and his co-driver Kevin Flanagan as the clear leaders of both the Triton Showers National Rally Championship and the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
The Dublin-based business man began the year with a first place finish at the Galway International and followed that with wins in the Midlands Stages, Monaghan, West Cork and Circuit of Munster.
The second place was in Birr behind Garry Jennings. Jennings and Rory Kennedy are the number three seeds this weekend, just behind Kelly and Kevin Flanagan.
“We are having a good run so far this year. Everything has been going right for us and we have been getting the lucky breaks that you need,” says Donagh, who is not sure if he is competing in Donegal for the sixth or seventh time.
“The first time I did Donegal was back in 1996 and then I didn’t do it for a good few years until five or six years ago”
Second to Sam Moffett in 2013, he did not make it to the second day last year after going off on Friday afternoon.
“The back wheels locked going into a corner and we went off the road and were out. They are the things that go against you from time to time and there is not a lot you can do about it.
“That is the thing about rallying, you can do everything right and you can have a mishap or suffer some kind of a mechanical problem and it is all over for you.
“This can happen at any time, on the first stage or the last and there is nothing you can do about it.
“This year so far everything has gone right for us. The car has been going really well. Paul Flanagan at VSM Rally Preparations in Derry, is doing a good job and keeps the car in good condition and running well.”
Donegal 2013 was the first rally for Donagh in the Ford Focus WRC and driving a left hand drive.
“It took me the best part of 18 months to get used to the left hand drive and even yet at times I go to the wrong side to get into the car. My day car is also left hand-drive which has helped me to get used to the left-hand drive.”
Like all Donegal drivers, winning Donegal is the ultimate challenge and the ultimate dream.
Donagh Kelly is no different; it is the rally victory he covets the most and it is the one trophy he wants in his trophy cabinet.
“It was the Donegal rally that kindled my interest in rallying and the one that attracted me to the sport in the first place.
“It was the one big event that, as a young lad, I longed for every year when I was a young lad growing up in Donegal. I didn’t come from a family that had any great interest in motor sport or rallying.
“My father Donal’s only interest was in traditional music and my mother Roisin was a school teacher.
“I just got hooked on rallying as a young lad and I remember it was so popular that Fr Owenie Friel in Killymard used to give updates from the Donegal International Rally at Mass on the Sunday morning of the rally.
“It is the home event and the rally every Donegal driver wants to win.”
So what are his chances?
“It takes a lot of things to go right for a driver to win and like all sports, you need a bit of luck as well,” he said.
“There is a very competitive field with Declan Boyle, last year’s winner, the number one seed. Declan, with his new car, has taken it to a new level and obviously he will be the man to catch again this year.
“Then you have Garry Jennings who won it in 2012. Darragh O’Riordan is another man capable of challenging and you can never discount Derek McGarrity or Seamus Leonard either.
“It is a matter of being ready from the off and making sure you are on the pace from the very first stage. Donegal is not a rally that you can sit back in or fall too far behind because it is a difficult rally to make up time if someone gets away from you.
“The aim has to be to be on the pipe from the off and hope everything goes well and you are still in the hunt on Sunday morning and in with a chance.
“For that to happen a lot of things have to go right for you,” he added.
Derry man Kevin Flanagan, who now lives in Burt, is Donagh’s regular navigator and is an important member in the combination and like Donagh, is also bidding for his first Donegal this weekend.