Manus repeats his last-gasp heroics of 12 months ago
Few thought Manus Kelly could win the 2016 Joule Donegal International Rally - but he did. Fewer still imagined, 12 months on, he could repeat his out-of-the-blue victory - but he did.
Kelly made it back-to-back wins in yet another dramatic finish yesterday afternoon, local hero Manus and co-driver Donal Barrett bringing the same WRC Subaru Impreza 12B into the finish in Letterkenny with almost two minutes to spare over the R5 Ford Fiesta of Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble, the highest scoring Irish Tarmac contenders.
Garry Jennings and Rory Kennedy completed the podium places in their troubled WRC Subaru.
But the seemingly comfortable margin of victory belies the fierce battle which raged over three days and saw another Kelly, Donagh, lead until the final loop of three stages yesterday afternoon. From the Friday start, the former Irish Tarmac and National champion was fastest on all of the first 10 stages but he could never shake off the 2016 winner. 'Mandy' stalked him mile after mile and they were just seven seconds apart starting the final leg yesterday.
Both of them struggled through a surprisingly wet Fanad stage, the gap closing to five seconds, and then on Atlantic Drive Manus finally nosed in front by two seconds. Donagh, determined to win his home round of the Tarmac series, hit back immediately with fastest time on High Glen to re-take the lead by 4.7 seconds.
It was then that Manus rolled the dice by selecting soft compound slick tyres knowing they would be best for the wet Fanad stage but might lose their grip on the dry roads of Atlantic Drive and High Glen. It proved an inspired choice, allowing him to set fastest time and sweep into a lead of 12 seconds.
Donagh had to respond but, pushing to the maximum on Atlantic Drive, he understeered into a bank, puncturing a tyre and damaging the radiator which forced his retirement.
Jennings lost second place on the final stage as the impressive Fisher squeezed ahead by seven seconds after leading the R5 category from start to finish and seeing off the rival Fiestas of the Moffett brothers, Sam and Josh, in fourth and fifth places overall.
Callum Devine won the R2 class in seventh place with former NI champion Stuart Biggerstaff eighth in his Subaru.