Five-time champion Donnelly returns for Tarmac tilt
Eugene Donnelly, the record-equalling five times champion, is returning to the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship with a new car and a new team.
The Maghera driver has made only sporadic appearances since he won the title in 2009, but on the first day of the Autosport International Show in Birmingham he unveiled a new R5 Hyundai i20, backed by MRF Tyres, which he plans to use in this year's series.
"I have been working on this deal for over a year now with Hyundai Customer Racing and MRF Tyres, and to be able to unveil the car at the NEC was just amazing. I can't wait to return to the stages," said Donnelly.
"I love rallying and the Irish Tarmac Championship in particular, and I always had a return in the back of my mind. I hope that in some ways I can help to bring back a bit of life to the championship."
But he insisted: "This new chapter is not just about me, but a new team, the development of the Hyundai R5 and the new MRF Tyres. They have had success already in the Asia-Pacific Championship and my role will be to use my experience to develop the most competitive tyre for Irish tarmac."
Round one of the series is the West Cork Rally in March, but Donnelly is not yet certain whether that will be the team's debut.
"This is a three-year development program and if I feel we are not ready for West Cork we will give it a miss," he said.
"Realistically I don't expect to have the pace of the current drivers, such as Sam Moffett, who are now winning the rallies, but if I can get the car and tyres up to a certain level of competitiveness, and I feel that I can't achieve any more, I'd be happy to step out and give a young driver a chance.
"This is more about creating a winning team with Hyundai and MRF Tyres and it could be a vehicle to help the next generation of rally driver to get to the top."
Meanwhile, Mads Ostberg is to re-join the Citroen team for round two of the World Championship - Rally Sweden - next month. He will drive a C3 WRC alongside Ulsterman Kris Meeke and Craig Breen.