The Dunlop National Rally Championship reaches its day of destiny in Donegal on Saturday next with the Donegal Harvest Rally, the eighth and final round of this great odyssey that began last February.
The rally will be centred around Donegal Town with the first car away at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning.
The quest for success in this year’s Dunlop series has produced an epic contest with one of the closest battles in recent decades of the popular Dunlop series.
The three title protagonists, Cork’s, Brian O’Mahony, Kerry’s, Thomas Fitzmaurice (Kerry) and Monaghan’s, Niall Maguire (Monaghan), all driving S11 Subaru WRC’s, are vying for the Vard Memorial Trophy.
In terms of points, O’Mahony has 96 points from Fitzmaurice with 90 points and Niall Maguire with 86 points. Whilst there are a number of permutations, O’Mahony will take the title – provided he secures a top three Dunlop points finish, irrespective of his rivals. Should he finish fourth in the Dunlop points with Fitzmaurice taking maximum points, the latter will be crowned champion, albeit on a tie-break. Meanwhile, Maguire, who has won the series three times in the past (1999, 2002 & 2004) needs to win in Donegal with both of his rivals scoring considerably less points.
The top seed for what is a cracking entry is last year’s Harvest winner, Garry Jennings, who will drive a hired Subaru WRC over the nine stage encounter with stages at Ballintra, Laghey and Lough Esk.
The Fermanagh ace is bidding for a unique Donegal treble, earlier this year, in a Subaru 555, he won the Donegal Forest Rally; in June, he won the International Rally in Letterkenny driving an S14 Subaru WRC and on Saturday, he will try to complete the hat-trick all in the one season. Incidentally, Jennings is also aiming to win the Harvest for a third consecutive year.
Niall Maguire, with one victory (Mayo) to his credit, hasn’t enjoyed the best of luck this season. In Tipperary, he was leading until he was forced to retire after the wheel studs sheared. “I think there is going to be a lot more pressure on Brian (O’Mahony) and Thomas (Fitzmaurice), than on myself. I know that winning the Dunlop series is a tall order, but I have nothing to lose, Donegal is very different territory, it’s very tricky. The last time the series was as tough as this was in 1999 with John Gilleece.” Maguire has come close to winning a fourth title on several occasions, but it remains elusive. “I’m trying my hardest, I feel I am driving very well at the moment, but it’s getting tougher all the time.”
Having finished fourth on the Donegal International, local driver, Donagh Kelly (Subaru WRC) will be keen to improve on this position, local honour in the All-Ireland Football winning county, is always a major talking point.
Tyrone’s, Seamus Leonard (Subaru) could be the surprise packet, he is always impressive on the stages in Donegal and will certainly be in the shake-up for top spot.
Meanwhile, after finishing second in last week’s Cork “20” International Rally, another Donegal driver, Declan Boyle (Subaru WRC) should benefit from his two day experience on the Cork event. A former winner of the rally.ie two-wheel drive award in the Dunlop series, he will pilot the ex-Tim McNulty 2011 Dunlop Championship winning Subaru S12B and plans to make a bid for the title in 2013.
Organising Club: Donegal Motor Club.
Clerk of the Course: Eamonn McCafferty.
Rally Headquarters: Abbey Hotel, Donegal Town. Tel. 074 9721014
First Car Away: 09. 00.
S.S. 1, 4 & 7: Ballintra (15.40 Kilometres) 09.54; 12.32 & 15.10.
S.S. 2, 5 & 8: Laghey (18.48 Kilometres) 10.24; 13.02 & 15.40.
S.S. 3, 6 & 9: Lough Esk (11.09 Kilometres) 11.02; 13.40 & 16.18.
Service: Laghey Quarry. 11.38 & 14.16.
Finish Ramp: Abbey Hotel, Donegal Town. 16.50.
1 Garry Jennings/Neil Doherty (Subaru WRC)
2 Brian O’Mahony/John Higgins (Subaru WRC)
3 Thomas Fitzmaurice/Fionn Foley (Subaru WRC)
4 Niall Maguire/Enda Sherry (Subaru Impreza WRC)
5 Donagh Kelly/Kevin Flanagan (Subaru Impreza WRC)
6 Seamus Leonard/John McCafferty (Subaru Impreza WRC)
7 Declan Boyle/Brian Boyle (Subaru Impreza WRC)
8 Kevin Barrett/Sean Mullally (Subaru Impreza WRC)
9 Kevin Kelleher/TBA (Subaru WRC)
10 Frank Kelly/Liam Brennan (Ford Escort Mk2).