Ulster rally battle with a very European flavour
It may be seen as a duel between two Ulster drivers but the battle for Formula Two honours on this weekend’s Todds Leap Ulster Rally has a true international flavour.
Marty McCormack and Mark Donnelly are expected to be the front runners when the counter in both the Irish Tarmac and British championships kicks off from Antrim on Friday but their chief rivals come from as far away as Estonia and Finland as well as the Irish Republic.
And even McCormack and Donnelly have gone international in their search for success.
McCormack, who currently leads the British F2 series, drives a French car, a Citroen DS3, run by a French team and with the backing of a French manufacturer. Donnelly is also in a French car, the R3 Renault Clio, but supplied and run by a Finnish team.
So far they have dominated the championship, 20-year-old Donnelly winning the F2 division on the Bulldog Rally in Wales in his Pinomaki Clio and McCormack, 25, taking victories on the next two rounds, the Pirelli International and the Jim Clark Rally, in the Sainteloc team’s DS3.
The Ulster pair are being chased by two rising stars from northern Europe, Estonian Siim Plangi and Finn Mikko Pajunen, both driving Renault Twingos.
Adding spice to the mix is the fact that Citroen and Renault have revealed they are targeting the British championship as a promotional tool, especially next season when the series becomes an entirely two-wheel-drive contest.
Plangi and Pajunen already enjoy the backing of Renault while Citroen Racing, the French manufacturer’s sporting division, have also announced their full support for McCormack in his efforts to add the F2 title to the UK and Irish C2R2 Trophy categories he has won in recent seasons.
“It is very encouraging to have a manufacturer on your side,” said McCormack.
“The DS3 is a comparatively new car and it means that any new developments Citroen Racing come up with will be available to me.
“There has been very little between Mark and myself this season and on home ground I expect it will be one heck of a battle this weekend.”
But there could be a ‘wild card’ in the contest, Longford’s Tommy Doyle.
With a string of successes in his R3 Clio, including an impressive second place in the two-wheel-drive section of the IRC Ypres Rally in Belgium, Doyle is just back from America where he won the New York Rally driving a Mitsubishi Lancer.
His target in Ulster this weekend is points in the West Euro Cup in which he holds fifth place.