Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Donnelly ditches his Subaru for a Skoda

Irish champion Eugene Donnelly goes Skoda for Rally Ireland.

That's the huge shock in the entry list for Ireland's first World Championship round next month.

The Maghera driver, who just a fortnight ago won the Irish Tarmac championship for a record fourth time in a Subaru S12, is switching to a Skoda Fabia for the November 15-18 event, starting at the Stormont estate in Belfast.

He will drive one of the former Czech factory team cars now being developed and prepared by Dutch expert Erik Wevers.

Rumours have been rampant since I revealed last week that Ulster Rally winner Kris Meeke would drive Donnelly's S12 Subaru, which is now owned by former Tarmac champion Derek McGarrity and his DMG team.

What was happening to Donnelly?

In fact, he was at the Corsican round of the World Championship, where Czech driver Jan Kopecky, who has been involved in the deal with Wevers to buy out the Skoda team, finished seventh in one of the little Fabias, effectively the highest placed privateer.

There Donnelly's Skoda deal was 'agreed in principle.'

"There are still a few details to iron out, but yes, all being well I'll be driving a Skoda on Rally Ireland," he confirmed.

"The car will be coming over from Holland next week and we will have a days testing before we go to the Skibbereen round of the Irish national championship on Sunday week.

"After that it will have a new engine, transmission and suspension fitted before Rally Ireland."

Why the switch?

"It is no secret that I have struggled to run the Subaru this year," he said.

"It was a hugely expensive car to buy and just as expensive to run.

"If it hadn't been for Reid Motorsport stepping in I wouldn't have been able to complete the Tarmac series.

"It was never their intention to own a WRC car like that, but they helped me through to the end of the season, even hiring the car back for me for the last round after it had been sold to DMG.

"Again it was no secret that Derek McGarrity wanted Kris Meeke to drive the car on Rally Ireland so we had to look around for alternatives. I could have driven the Subaru S11 which Kris used to win the Ulster Rally, but that would have been a short-term option.

"In the end we decided to go for the Skoda.

"I have known Erik Wevers for a long time and in fact, he was the man behind the Toyota Corollas I used to win my first three Irish Tarmac Championships.

"We had talked about the Skoda option at the end of last year, but he advised me to wait until they'd had the chance to do more development work on the car.

"Well, you saw at the weekend that it goes pretty well. It was Kopecky's first time in Corsica, which is a very specialised rally, and he finished in the World championship points.

"I would be delighted if I could do that on Rally Ireland.

"It has been a bit of a roller-coaster year for me, but I'm happy that I was able to give Prodrive (Subaru) their first Tarmac championship since Derek shared it with me in 2004.

"In fact, they tell me it is the first championship won by an S12 anywhere."

The Ulster International-winning Subaru S11 will now be driven for the DMG team by Meeke's old Suzuki rival from the Junior World championship, Guy Wilks.

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