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Kelly duo fighting it out for the lead in Donegal Rally

By Sammy Hamill

Donagh Kelly had a perfect day but still came out leading the Joule Donegal International Rally by just 12 seconds.

Hounding him throughout the six stages of yesterday's opening leg of the three-day Irish Tarmac championship event was another Kelly, Manus, who pulled off the shock of the season with his victory 12 months ago. Garry Jennings was a further 11 seconds back in third place.

The leading Kelly - no relation - set fastest times on all six stages in his WRC Ford Focus but the second-place Kelly in his Subaru Impreza was in his wheel tracks all the way, never more than a couple of seconds adrift.

"It was pretty much a perfect day and the best start I've ever made to this rally," said Donagh, who has won every round of the Tarmac series bar Donegal, his home event. "But fair play to Manus, he has been right on our heels all the way. This is a long rally and has only just started. We'll see how it goes over the next two days.

"Nobody remembers who was leading on Friday, only who's in front on Sunday night."

It was Manus Kelly who scored an out-of-the-blue win in 2016, stepping up from a Ford Escort for only his second outing in a WRC car, the same 12 Subaru he is driving again this year. But yesterday he demonstrated again he's at home in the car and a real threat on the roads of his native Donegal.

Jennings, a two-time Donegal winner, was slightly off the pace of the front two. And he was lucky to still be in the rally, and in contention, after his Subaru broke a driveshaft close to the finish of the third stage. Although he dropped only a handful of seconds he could have been in serious trouble if he hadn't been able to head straight for the mid-afternoon service break where the driveshaft was replaced.

He admitted he was "just hanging onto the coat tails of the two Kellys" but was happy to be still in the rally after his first day retirement in 2016.

One significant name missing from the top of the leaderboard was Declan Boyle, the 2014 winner, who withdrew before yesterday's start because of a death in the family.

Behind the three leading WRC cars, which are eligible for overall honours but not Tarmac championship points, Alastair Fisher led the R5 title contenders in fourth place in his Ford Fiesta, 40 seconds behind Jennings.

The battle here was even more intense than at the top of the leaderboard, with Fisher just 2.7 seconds ahead of Sam Moffett, the current Clonakilty Black Pudding championship leader. And the other Moffett, Josh, was in sixth place, just 15 seconds behind his brother.

Robert Barrable was also in the mix until he crashed his Hyundai on the fifth stage, slightly delaying the following Josh Moffett.

Out, too, went Aaron MacHale who crashed his Skoda on stage six.

Australia-based Pauric Duffy was up to seventh in his R5 Fiesta ahead of the production class leading Mitsubishi of Adrian Wray. Callum Devine was in an impressive ninth place in his little R2 Opel Adam, the top two-wheel-drive contender, and Richard Tannahill completed the top 10 in his first appearance in an R5 Peugeot.

Kevin Eves led the national division in his Toyota Corolla, eight seconds ahead of the Ford Escort of Damien Gallagher with Declan Gallagher third in a Toyota Starlet.

Belfast Telegraph

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