Forever a legend: Tributes flow from motorsport world for 'great friend' Manus Kelly
Friends, fans and fellow competitors, including Craig Breen and American Ken Block, have been paying tribute to Manus Kelly, who was killed on the Donegal International Rally at the weekend.
Kelly had won his home round of the premier Irish Tarmac Championship for the past three years and had the coveted No.1 on the door of his Hyundai i20 as the cars rolled out from Letterkenny on Friday morning.
Right behind him was Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle, leaders of the series and winners of the first four rounds this year. Never did they consider the driver leaving the start ramp ahead of them would be dead two days later.
Posting on Facebook, former Citroen World Championship driver Breen wrote: "On Friday we rolled away over the start ramp in Letterkenny behind my good friend Manus, ready for a weekend of fun in Donegal. I could never have imagined the terrible events that occurred yesterday.
"Manus, you were a pure gent. A talented driver, a great family man, and to me and many more a great friend. Thanks for the memories, you will forever be a legend of Irish rallying. Goodbye my friend."
Sam Moffett, who was declared the rally winner after it was cut short following Kelly's accident on Sunday afternoon, and his brother Josh, the current Tarmac champion, wrote: "What a hero, placed among the legends of Irish rallying.
"What this man achieved in our sport is remarkable. Always smiling and family in hand, Manus is someone we can all aspire to be like."
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Posting a picture of Kelly and co-driver Donall Barrett, who is recovering in hospital, standing on top of the finish ramp at the end of the 2016 rally when they won by just half a second after three days on the road, second-placed Keith Cronin wrote: "This is how I will remember Manus Kelly.
"We are all finding it hard to process this tragic news. Fantastic competitor, businessman and overall nice guy."
Block, the American YouTube superstar who was competing in Donegal for the first time, posted to his 13 million followers: "Ireland lost a true legend at the Donegal Rally. RIP Manus Kelly. My thoughts are with his family, friends and co-driver. Godspeed."
Block's co-driver Alex Gelsomino added: "Our amazing sport can be so cruel sometimes. Legend of Donegal RIP."
Dom Buckley, whose Scottish team were running the Ford Fiesta of Ulster driver Alastair Fisher, wrote: "The worst news that nobody ever wants to hear. We would like to send our condolences to the family and friends of Manus Kelly, the PCRS Rallysport team and the rest of the rallying community who have lost a great man, friend and competitor. Our thoughts are with you all."
Hyundai Motorsport, who supplied the car Kelly was driving, posted: "We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Manus Kelly."
In a statement, Paddy Flanagan, manager of the Tarmac Championship, said: "Manus was a unique individual who bestowed his incredible warmth of character upon everyone he met.
"His enthusiasm for rallying was infectious and the rally community will mourn the loss of not only a true competitor, but of a great man."
Clerk of the course for the rally, Eamonn McGee, described Kelly's death as "devastating".
"He was a great ambassador for the sport and for Donegal Motor Club and for the county as well," he said.
Politicians, too, have joined in, including Michael Martin, leader of Fianna Fail. Kelly was a recently-elected Donegal County councillor for the party.
"It was obvious throughout his recent election campaign that he was passionate and entirely committed to serving the people of the Letterkenny electoral area which he cherished," said Mr Martin, adding his colleague had made "a huge contribution to his community".
"He was an active fundraiser and advocate for the Letterkenny University Hospital. He had great commitment to the GAA and managed his local club, Glenswilly, to Junior B success in 2016."
Hundreds more tributes have been posted by rally fans from home and abroad, all of them struggling to come to grips with the death of a popular figure and rally winner.
He was killed when his car left the road on the Fanad Head stage on Sunday afternoon, vaulting a hedge and rolling into a field several feet below before bouncing back onto its wheels.
It was out of sight to competitors following immediately behind, but officials were aware via the satellite tracking system the car had stopped and alerted marshals and rescue services who brought the rally to a halt.
When the seriousness of the accident became apparent, the decision was taken to abandon the rest of the event and the cars were directed back to the finish area in Letterkenny.
Manus Kelly's rally career
2004: Made rally debut in Donegal Harvest Stages in Toyota Corolla - retired
2005: Made his Donegal International Rally debut in Toyota Corolla - finished 35th
2006: Finished fourth in Circuit of Ireland National Rally in Toyota Corolla
2007: Finished fourth in Circuit of Kerry in Mitsubishi Lancer
2008: Finished sixth and won class in Cavan Rally in Ford Escort
2009: Finished 11th in Donegal International Rally in Ford Escort
2010: Finished third in Galway Summer and Carlow rallies in Ford Escort
2011: Finished fourth in Donegal Harvest Rally in Ford Escort
2012: Finished seventh in Donegal International Rally in Ford Escort
2015: Finished seventh in Donegal International Rally in Ford Escort
2016: Recorded first outright win in Carlow Rally in Subaru Impreza
2016: Won the Donegal International Rally for first time in Subaru Impreza
2017: Won Donegal International Rally again in Subaru Impreza
2018: Won the International Rally of the Lakes in Subaru Impreza
2018: Won Donegal International Rally for third year in a row in Subaru Impreza
2019: Finished ninth in Easter Stages Rally in Hyundai i20