Eugene Donnelly makes positive comeback with second spot
It wasn’t quite a winning comeback for Eugene Donnelly but he did more than enough to answer his own question: ‘Can I still be competitive after a two-year lay-off?’
Sidelined since late 2009 by funding issues, the five-times Irish Tarmac champion was back for a ‘trial run’ on the final round of the Dunlop national series, the Fastnet Rally, at Bantry, yesterday.
And Donnelly, from Draperstown, finished in second place despite a dreadful start in which he lost a minute and 16 seconds on the first stage when his Toyota Corolla WRC suffered a puncture.
But, even in the now elderly Corolla, Donnelly reeled off a string of fastest times over the next seven stages to close right up on the S12 Subaru Impreza of Daragh O’Riordan, a driver who won the Tarmac internationals in Killarney and Cork this season.
In the end Donnelly was just six seconds behind winner O’Riordan, providing more than enough evidence to suggest he will be a major contender if he returns to chase a record sixth Tarmac title next season.
Third place went to another former Killarney winner Denis Cronin in his Subaru. Brian O’Mahoney had been as high as second but retired his Impreza with gear selection trouble on the fifth stage.
Barry Meade and Sam Smyth were fourth and fifth, the best of the Ford Escort drivers, with the Ulster pair of Wesley Patterson and Frank Kelly in sixth and seventh.
Meanwhile Emma McKinstry chalked up her first outright victory at the weekend — appropriately winning the North Armagh Club’s McKinstry Motorsport time trial at Kirkistown.
Her dad, and event sponsor, Kenny McKinstry, led initially but retired when his Subaru developed a transmission vibration and Emma went on to uphold family honours with the fastest time of the day and overall victory.