Belfast Telegraph

Donnelly excited to tackle Easter Rally with the all-new Proton Iriz


New wheels: Proton’s R5 Iriz, which will be making its Ireland debut in the hands of Eugene Donnelly
New wheels: Proton’s R5 Iriz, which will be making its Ireland debut in the hands of Eugene Donnelly

By Sammy Hamill

Eugene Donnelly has never been afraid to try something different. In a career which has brought him 18 Irish Tarmac Championship victories and a record-equalling five titles, he has swapped from Subarus to Toyotas to Skodas.

Most recently, he has tried Hyundais. But this weekend Donnelly is scheduled to appear in the Easter Stages Rally in a car never previously seen in Ireland, a Proton Iriz R5.

Developed for the Malaysian manufacturer by Mellors Elliot Motorsport, an English company with a long association with Proton, the Iriz is the first car to be officially homologated in right-hand-drive configuration for the current R5 category.

Much of its testing programme has been carried out by Ollie Mellors, son of the company owner and former British champion Chris Mellors, but there has also been input from multi-WRC winner Marcus Gronholm.

"I'm looking forward to another new project and excited to have the first homologated RHD R5 car in the world," said Donnelly, who is linking up with another Malaysian company, tyre suppliers MRF, to help develop the car for tarmac rallies.

The original plan was to have the new Iriz ready for next month's Rally of the Lakes in Killarney but it is ahead of schedule and, if all goes well in test sessions this week, it will line up at Antrim Castle Gardens on Friday morning (10am) for the start of the Wastewater Solutions Easter Rally which again replaces the Circuit of Ireland this year.

As well as MEM personnel, Donnelly's regular engineering team from McGeehan Motorsport are involved in the project.

The two-day Easter Rally, which will be based around a service area at the Ulster Grand Prix paddock at Dundrod, is round three of the Irish Tarmac Championship and the entry list is headed by Craig Breen, fresh from his victory in the Sanremo Rally last weekend.

He has also won the first two Tarmac rounds in Galway and West Cork and leads the Irish series ahead of Alastair Fisher and the 2018 champion Josh Moffett.

Meanwhile, Mark Donnelly, a former Pirelli Star Driver award winner, was back in action last weekend, taking second place in the Rallynuts Stages in Wales.

The Omagh driver, in an R5 Ford Fiesta, finished less than a minute behind the WRC Ford Focus of Euan Thorburn. Former NI champion Connor McCloskey was fourth in his Fiesta.

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