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Moffett ready to pounce if the big three come up short

 

By Sammy Hamill

It was the shock of the season when Manus Kelly won last year's Joule Donegal International Rally. A comparative rookie in WRC cars, he was one who outlasted the more established contenders like Garry Jennings, Declan Boyle, Donagh Kelly and Eugene Donnelly.

True, Manus was already something of a local hero for his exploits in Ford Escorts, but to step up to an S12 Subaru Impreza for just the second time and win the toughest, the most hard fought of the Irish Tarmac championship internationals was an outstanding feat.

The fact that the winning margin over Keith Cronin at the end of three long days was just half a second only added to the Donegal folklore.

Now Kelly will be attempting to re-enact that win when the 2017 edition begins from Letterkenny at lunch time tomorrow, but what are the chances of lightning striking twice in the same place? Remote you have to say.

Kelly talked last year of climbing a mountain he never truly expected to scale, but the footholds were all there when Jennings and co. succumbed to various troubles over the three days and he took advantage. However, Kelly still had to withstand a last stage shoot-out with the less powerful R5 Citroen of Cronin before he fell over the line by the tiniest of margins.

It made for a fairytale finish, the Donegal International won by a home driver for just the fourth time in its 45 year history, but while there is every likelihood there could be local celebrations again, the chances are it will be the other Kelly, Donagh, or Boyle, the county's most successful drivers.

Both have already been winners this year, but for them the season is all about Donegal. It is the one that matters most - as it does for Jennings, who has cut his appearances right back this year after winning the Galway International in February.

From across the border in Fermanagh, but with business interests in Donegal, he views this as the summit of the season and already has two wins under his belt. With his Subaru freshly re-fettled, Jennings is back and thinking only of a third victory.

All three are former Tarmac champions but have ruled themselves out of the current series by sticking with their WRC cars and refusing to embrace the switch to the current R5 category. One of them will likely win overall this weekend, but the championship focus will be firmly on the likes of series leader Sam Moffett, Alastair Fisher, Robert Barrable and Josh Moffett.

Their cars might lack the punch of the WRC Subarus and Fords but they have been steadily closing the gap and, remember, Kelly's S12 Impreza had less than a second to spare over Cronin's R5 Citroen a year ago.

And no one is in better form than Sam Moffett, who is not only top of the Tarmac table in his R5 Ford Fiesta but is the unbeaten leader of the National championship as well, effortlessly switching to his WRC Fiesta for the one-day events.

If the big three falter again this year, Moffett, who won in a WRC Subaru in 2013, could be your man for another shock result, although he will have a fight on his hands just to land top Tarmac points.

Belfast Telegraph

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