Donnelly and Henry aim to stay out in front
Two Ulster drivers, Mark Donnelly and Desi Henry, stand at the top the British rally championship points table going into this weekend’s second round of the series in Wales.
It is a position which demonstrates the strength of Northern Ireland’s rising talent even in the absence of the sidelined Marty McCormack, reigning British F2 and Junior champion.
With McCormack missing due to funding issues, Donnelly has picked up the gauntlet impressively, winning the opening round of the championship, the Sunseeker Rally, in his Renault Clio after a tense duel with the Citroen DS3 of Finn Jarkko Nikara.
And when Nikara faltered towards the end with an engine problem, it was another young Ulsterman, 21-year-old Citroen Trophy champion Henry, who came with a late charge to take second place despite it being his first appearance in an R3-class DS3.
Their next challenge is the Bulldog Rally which starts from Welshpool tonight and features not just Nikara and his fellow Finns Jukka Korhonen — he was selected for the Pirelli Star Driver award ahead of Donnelly last season — and Jussi Kumpumaki but Estonian Egon Kaur who was runner-up to Craig Breen in the World championship Academy last year.
Donnelly, who has confirmed he will not be joining the WRC Academy after all this season, and Henry also take on the home Welsh challenge of Elfyn Evans and Osian Pryce.
The Irish contingent is boosted by the inclusion of Alastair Fisher, who is using the event as preparation for next week’s opening WRC Academy round in Portugal, Jonny Greer in a DS3 Citroen for the first time, and Matthew Cathcart.
One of the most intriguing entries sees Keith Cronin, British champion in 2009 and ’10 and a two-time Bulldog winner, back in the series in an R3 Honda Civic run by the Derrick Jobb Motorsport team from Tyrone.