Donegal gears up for another Topaz International

Donegal Motor Club officials are putting the finishing touches to their preparations for the annual Donegal International Rally, which once again is sponsored by Topaz.

Donegal Motor Club officials are putting the finishing touches to their preparations for the annual Donegal International Rally, which once again is sponsored by Topaz.

The Rally, which is the leading event in the Irish Rally calendar, is the only rally which will run over three days in the Irish and British Rally calendar outside the British WRC Rally.

The Rally has once again attracted many of the top names though last year’s winner Tim McNulty is an absentee this year and the Meath man’s absence means that Darren Gass, Darragh O’Riordan, Garry Jennings, Derek McGarrity, Niall Maguire along with local favourite Donagh Kelly from Donegal Town, and Seamus Leonard from Omagh are the top seeds.

There is a huge local interest in the National section of the Rally. Last year’s National winner Daniel McKenna is returning to defend his title but he will face a stiff challenge from home favourites Declan Boyle, Manus Kelly and Brian Brogan.

Eamon McGee has taken over from Danny Gormley as Clerk of the Course. The Gaoth Dobhair man has been chief marshal for the past seven years and is an experienced rally official and has been Clerk of the Course for the Donegal Harvest Rally and the Glenties Mini-Stages Rally on a number of occasions.

“It is a mammoth job and I will have a big job to fill Danny’s (Gormley) shoes but I’m fortunate to have a very good support committee and a large team of marshals and stewards all who do a wonderful job every year,” Eamon told the Democrat on Wednesday morning.

“But we are really looking forward to it and at this stage it is more or less all systems go. We have everything in place and really looking forward to a top class event once more.

“We’ve been planning the rally since before Christmas and have been traipsing the country seeking the support from other clubs and thankfully everything is in place and we are ready to roll. We have a large field of as I speak we have an entry of 145 crews along with 20 historics and 15 juniors which in the current economic climate is good and we have a very strong local field. At the last count looking through the entry list we have over 70 locals crews which must be something of a record.”

The rally will once again be run over three days, Friday to Sunday, over 22 stages, eight on Friday - including two town stages in Buncrana which proved very popular last year - eight on Saturday, including a new Gartan stage, and six on Sunday, finishing up on the famous Atlantic Drive.

“We will have somewhere between 300 and 400 marshals on duty over the three days, many of them working on all three days. We will have 150 in place for Friday stages, 250 for Saturday and 200 on Sunday and on each day we will also have in the region of 40 time-keepers and 30 to 40 radio operators working each day. All these people do a terrific job and are every bit as important to the event as the Clerk of the Course and without them we would have no rally.”

Safety is once again paramount for all involved in the rally, competitors, spectators, road users and residents, especially in light of the recent tragedy in Cavan and also given the recent history of the event itself.

“Safety as always is a priority and it is vital that all attending the rally over the three days listen to the marshals and take instruction. The marshals are not out to spoil anyone’s rally and make it less enjoyable. They are there to ensure that the rally runs smoothly and without any incidents and to ensure that everyone that comes to the rally enjoys it but most of all they go home safely.

He said that they had also been liaising with the Gardai and they will be out in force and they are appealing to all those travelling between stages act sensibly and leave the rallying to the rally drivers.

The rally gets underway on Friday with the first cars off the ramp on the Port Road in Letterkenny at 11.20 am and the first six stages before heading to Buncrana on Friday evening.

Meanwhile, the Clerk of the Course, due to his rally duties, is going to have to miss the other big sporting event and his other big passion, the Ulster Championship meeting of Donegal and Derry in Ballybofey on Saturday evening.

His three sons - Neil, Eamonn and Peter - are all members of the Donegal squad with All-Star Neil expected to be joined Eamon in the Donegal starting 15.

“Unfortunately, I’m going to miss the game, but it cannot be helped on this occasion. Hopefully, they will win and we get another day out. I probably will, with a bit of luck, get to keep up with it on the radio,” said Eamonn.