Donegal rally drivers Declan Boyle and Donagh Kelly and adopted Donegal man Garry Jennings, from Kesh in Fermanagh, are the top three in this weekend’s Joule Donegal International Rally.
Jennings, with Letterkenny man Rory Kennedy calling the notes, are number one seeds as last year’s winner in their Subaru WRC. Donagh Kelly, in a Ford Focus, last year’s double winning national champion, is seeded number two with 2014 winner, Declan Boyle, in car number three.
This trio will lead the local challenge while Derry man Eugene Donnelly, a three time winner in Donegal, will lead the challenge from outside the county. Donnelly, who last won in 2008 in a Mini, is seeded number four.
Craig Breen, who competes in the European Rally Championship; Alastair Fisher, Keith Cronin, Sam Moffett - winner in 2013, Josh Moffett and Manus Kelly - last year’s Donegal National winner - make up the rest of the top ten.
Manus Kelly has made the step from the National and has swapped his Escort for a Subaru S!2 and is competing in the international for the first time.
"To be competing with the biggest names in the sport of rallying in Donegal is a dream come true for me," Manus commented.
"We had a good, clean run in Carlow and it was nice to get the win earlier in the season. But this is a new event and will present a whole new set of challenges," he added.
"Donegal always attracts a top class field and this year is no exception. Garry Jennings, Donagh Kelly, Declan Boyle and Eugene Donnelly make up the top four, so that gives some indication of the quality in this year's Donegal. That said, we will give it out best and just see where the car takes us," added Manus, who with Donal Barrett alongside him, won the recent Carlow Rally in the new car.
Declan Boyle and his co-driver Brian Boyle won the Joule Donegal International in 2014 in a Subaru and he was second last year in his new Fiesta WRC left hand drive.
“We only got delivery of the car the week of the rally last year so we had very little time to get familiar with it before the rally. But we still managed to finish second,” explained Declan.
The Boyles have had little joy with the car since. In the three rallies they have done this year so far - Galway, Carlow and Cavan - they’ve had mechanical problems.
“Hopefully, we have our mechanical problems behind us and that the car keeps going and we can keep it on the road. If we do we will not be far away at the finish.”
As always the Joule Donegal National rally, which is run in conjunction with the International, has attracted a big entry list. All the smart money is on Meathman Jonathan Pringle in his Mk2 Escort with Donegal Motor Club chairman, Brian Brogan, and Damien Gallagher among the leading local challengers.
Last season’s National Modified champion, Declan Gallagher from Ardara with James McNulty, Ballybofey calling the notes in a Starlet, is having another crack at Donegal. In his fifth Donegal he is bidding for a first finish after a number of mishaps and disappointments in recent year.
The Joule Donegal International, the only three day rally on the Irish rally calendar, gets underway on Friday morning and runs through until Sunday evening.