Donagh Kelly eyes double success
Donagh Kelly had the Irish Tarmac championship within his grasp last night and, possibly, a first Todds Leap Ulster Rally win as well.
The Donegal driver in his M-Sport Ford Focus led at the end of the first day after a topsy-turvy first leg in which two of his major rivals, Garry Jennings and Derek McGarrity, hit trouble on the opening stage soon after the Enniskillen start and the Moffett brothers, Sam and Josh, made a last minute decision to withdraw because of a family illness.
Kelly had earlier said he would focus on consolidating his championship position rather than chase a fourth Tarmac win but the absence of Sam Moffett, second in the standings, all but landed the title in his lap.
However, Kelly and his Derry co-driver Kevin Flanagan could never have envisaged how the first stage at Mallabeny Hill would present them with a glorious opportunity to seal the series in winning style.
But they arrived at the stage end to find rally favourite Jennings, going for his third Ulster win in a row, had dropped 37 seconds after a turbo pipe came adrift and his Subaru lost power.
McGarrity, meanwhile, lost 20 seconds when he found his Subaru overheating and the floor awash in water.
Jennings responded with the fastest time on stage two, Knockmany, but was hit with a disputed 40 second road penalty for time lost fixing the errant turbo pipe.
Despite losing his concentration and sliding into a ditch, Kelly increased his lead over Henry to 12 seconds as the cars returned to the first service break at St Angelo airport.
The second loop over the same two stages saw Jennings fastest on both to move up to fourth despite the disputed penalty as Kelly edged his lead over Henry out to 24 seconds.
Top of the leaderboard: 1 Donagh Kelly/Kevin Flanagan (Ford Focus) 38 mins 06.0 secs; 2 Desi Henry/Liam Moynihan (Skoda Fabia) + 24.7 secs; 3 Stephen Wright/Mikie Galvin (Ford Fiesta) + 31.4 secs; 4 Garry Jennings/Rory Kennedy (Subaru Impreza) + 45.4 secs