Classy Eugene secures success in Skoda
Eugene Donnelly was unsure how his ‘budget’ Skoda Fabia would measure up against the big, powerful Subaru Imprezas and Ford Focuses on the Larsen Circuit of Ireland Rally.
He wasn't sure it would have the pace to compete right at the front.
He's pretty sure now after a convincing, controlled victory which saw the Maghera driver steer the little Czech car to a 48-second win over the Subaru of reigning Irish Tarmac champion Eamonn Boland at the weekend.
The rally, which started from Banbridge on Saturday morning, had all the look of a hectic dogfight as the lead changed hands three times in the first three stages, Donnelly leading by a fraction of a second initially and then being overhauled by Derek McGarrity who, in turn, was superseded by Peadar Hurson.
But on the fourth stage, over the bumps and jumps of Hamilton's Folly near Rathfriland, Donnelly cut loose and left them all trailing by 10 seconds. And he never looked back.
By the end of the first leg he and co-driver Paddy Toner had stretched out a 24-second lead and yesterday, over six treacherous, potentially dangerous stages close to the border south of Newry, Donnelly calmly kept the chasing pack at bay to record his second Circuit success.
Triple Circuit winner McGarrity pulled out after his Subaru suffered a puncture on the final Saturday stage and he almost crashed into spectators. Hurson,
in second place, opted not to risk further damage to the engine of his Subaru after it developed an oil leak following a heavy landing on the same stage.
It all left Donnelly with a comfortable cushion for the last leg which saw Boland and Gareth MacHale battling over second place. It was settled in the 2008 winner's favour when MacHale was penalised for a jump start and lost further time with a re-occurrence of gearbox trouble in his Ford Focus.
But for Donnelly, it was all about Hamilton's Folly on Saturday.
"When I finished that stage and saw we had beaten everybody by 10 seconds I knew then the wee Skoda had the pace to win the rally," he said.
"In fact, it was fantastic. It may not have the power for the really fast stuff but it was brilliant over the bumps and jumps — and there were a lot of those in this rally!
"A lot of the credit has to go to Derek McGeehan and the guys at McGeehan Motorsport. They have transformed this car with a lot of hard work."
Tim McNulty finished in fourth place with young Darren Gass fifth after an eventful international debut in a McKinstry Motorsport S11 Subaru and Kevin Barrett sixth. Alan Carmichael won the production category from Rory Byrne, the two Mitsubishi drivers finishing line astern in seventh and eighth places.
Kenny McKinstry himself dominated the Northern Ireland championship section of the rally, winning by over three minutes. There was last day disappointment for McKinstry's daughter Emma who crashed out of fourth place.