Belfast Telegraph

Frustrated Donnelly is searching for Ulster cheer

By Sammy Hamill

It should have been Mark Donnelly's dream season, a season in which he stamped his mark on the British rally championship.

Winner of the Pirelli Star Driver shoot-out at the end of 2012, the 22-year-old from Omagh landed the coveted prize of a full BRC campaign this year funded by the Italian tyre giant in their R3 Citroen DS3T.

Gone was the grind of chasing sponsorship to finance the running of his privately owned Renault Clio.

Effectively he just has to turn up and climb on board the Citroen which had been built and prepared for him by the Carryduff-based DGM team.

But the season has not worked out as Donnelly would have hoped and he goes into this weekend's fourth round, the Rally NI division of the Todds Leap Ulster Rally, in eighth place in the BRC standings.

He retired from the Pirelli International, his favourite rally, and finished sixth on the Jim Clark and Scottish rounds.

He is as much at a loss to explain what has gone wrong as are the DGM team. They are also running identical Citroens for Alastair Fisher and Jonny Greer, who sit second and fourth in the championship, as well as Keith Cronin, recent WRC3 division winner on the Rally of Finland.

"It hasn't gone my way so far but it hasn't been for the want of trying," said Donnelly who made his breakthrough when he won the 2012 BRC Sunseeker Rally.

"I think I struggled initially to adapt to the Citroen which has different characteristics to the Renault and I found it difficult to find an ideal set-up.

"There have also been one or two issues with the car and I've been a bit unlucky on occasions. It has all added up to a disappointing season so far. But I'm hoping the Ulster will be the turnaround point for me. It's a longer rally than is usual in the British Championships so there is more opportunity to get settled and it probably won't be a case of going flat out for the two days."

Donnelly added: "I certainly know what kind of terrain to expect but I've never been on most of the roads the rally is using. It should be a pretty level playing field for everybody."

The rally, which also includes the battle for the Irish Tarmac championship, begins from Enniskillen at lunch time on Friday.

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