As the country basked in glorious Easter sunshine Belfast’s Titanic Quarter played host to this year’s Circuit of Ireland Rally.
It was round 2 of the Clonakility Black Pudding Irish Tarmac Championship and Round 4 of the European Rally Championship and the entry didn’t disappoint for this the oldest running rally in the world and it drew some of the finest crews and machines from right across Europe and beyond.
Donegal once again sent an impressive line up of competitors and leading the field away on Good Friday morning was Gary Jennings with Letterkenny’s Rory Kennedy guiding the current tarmac champion. Following them were Declan and Brian Boyle current leaders of both the International and National Irish championships and fresh from victories on round one in Galway and Mayo.
In third was another in form crew, that of Donagh Kelly and Kevin Flanagan who were hoping to follow their recent victory in the West Cork Rally with more of the same but with Eugene Donnelly, Derek McGarrity and Kenny McKinstry all to follow then it was going to be a tough call to pick a winner from this well seasoned bunch of tarmac masters.
The two wheel drive entry was just as mouth watering and yet again it was the hard charging Glenties man Declan Gallagher with Ryan Moore on the notes that lead the way in his Toyota starlet at number 7. They would be followed by Wesley Patterson and Letterkennys Johnny Baird in their Escort with Frank Kelly and Camillus Bradley to follow in similar machines.
The ERC entry was headed by Waterford’s Craig Breen in the new Peugeot 208 with Finnish driver Esapekka Lappi in the first of the Factory skoda Fabia S2000’s second and his team mate Sepp Wiegand from Germany third.
The action got underway just outside Newtownards and as the early morning fog cleared it was first blood to Donagh Kelly in his Ford Focus WRC who took a 2.4 second lead from Gary Jennings in second and Declan Boyle a further 2 secs back in third. Stage two “Bucks Head” seen the rolls reverse with Gary taking 2.6 from Donagh to lead by 0.2 of a sec. Declan Gallagher continued from where he left off in West Cork by leading the modified battle from Wesley Patterson and Johnny Baird in second.
Overnight standings seen Gary Jennings lead from Boyle in second and Kelly third, Declan Gallagher held 8th but sadly Wesley Patterson’s rally would end with a broken half shaft but they would restart day two under super rally rules.
First casualty of day two was Eugene Donnelly in the Mini WRC on the opening test. On the “Bronte Homeland” a 30km stage, Donagh Kelly ended up in a field but was lucky to escape any damage but lost valuable time to the leaders while Declan Gallagher arrived at the stop control having suffered serious brake fade towards the end of the test.
The last loop was to be a cliff hanger right to the end. Garry’s weekend now started to unravel as he came off the penultimate stage with a puncture and his lead was now reduced to a mere 3.2 secs from Boyle but worse was to befall the Fermanagh and Donegal pairing as on the final stage they rolled their Impreza, thankfully both Gary and Rory were unhurt. So Boyle clinched victory with Donagh Kelly second and Derek McGarrity Third. Yet another amazing result for Declan Gallagher and Ryan Moore in 5th.
The bandwagon now moves to Kerry for the Killarney International Rally in two weeks time where Declan and Brian will be hoping to make it three in-a-row.