Garry Jennings well on course for historic hat-trick
Garry Jennings could make his own little piece of history this weekend by becoming the first driver to win the Todds Leap Ulster Rally three years in a row.
On home ground in Fermanagh he has to be the favourite to surpass the likes of Malcolm Wilson, Bertie Fisher and Eugene Donnelly who all scored back-to-back victories but were never able to completed the hat-trick.
But even if he wins and enters the record books, the former Irish Tarmac champion from Kesh won't look back on it with any great satisfaction. He remembers all too well his victory last year came in the wake of the tragic death of young Timmy Cathcart who crashed on only the third stage of the rally.
As the sad news filtered back to the St Angelo service area, Jennings made it clear he had no stomach for a return to the stages and, indeed, he and co-driver Rory Kennedy led their own tribute to a young Fermanagh friend by pushing their Subaru into parc ferme rather than fire up the engine.
It was a gesture followed by all the other competitors and the rest of the rally was subsequently cancelled with Jennings, as the leader, declared the winner.
But, as the organisers pay tribute to Cathcart, part of a rally dynasty in the Lakelands, by leaving his No.8 blank in this year's entry list, Jennings will disregard the record books and focus on repeating his 2013 win when he anxiously nursed his ailing Subaru over the finish line ahead of Derek McGarrity.
Unlike last year, that Jennings win sparked huge celebrations as Fermanagh marked its first home winner in 20 years.
"Winning in 2013 was very special. It was the first time the rally had been back in Fermanagh for many years and during the stages I could see many of my customers [he runs an oil distribution company] waving to me and cheering me on," he said.
"It was tense due to a car issue, but we got there in the end and I'll never forget coming back into Enniskillen as the winner. That was a special moment."
McGarrity, another past winner, is again one of his main rivals but the spotlight will be on Donagh Kelly who is enjoying a stellar season and has already won the Irish National Championship as well as sweeping into a 20-point lead in the premier Tarmac series.
Much may depend on Kelly's approach. A top four finish will all but ensure he achieves a rare title double and it remains to be seen whether he risks becoming embroiled in a battle with Jennings, who beat him in Donegal in June, McGarrity and the Moffett brothers, Sam and Josh, in a bid to add to his Galway, West Cork and Killarney victories.
The rally starts from Castle Coole tomorrow afternoon (3.30pm) finishing at 5pm on Saturday with service again centred on St Angelo airport.
Top of the entry list for Todds Leap Ulster Rally: 1 Garry Jennings (Subaru Impreza), 2 Donagh Kelly (Ford Focus), 3 Derek McGarrity (Subaru Impreza), 4 Sam Moffett (Ford Fiesta), 5 Josh Moffett (Ford Fiesta), 6 Stephen Wright (Ford Fiesta), 7 Derek McGeehan (Mini WRC), 9 Desi Henry (Skoda Fabia), 10 Jonathan Greer (Citroen DS3), 11 Frank Kelly (Ford Escort), 12 Shane McGirr (Toyota Starlet), 14 Camillus Bradley (Ford Escort), 15 Daniel McKenna (Toyota GT86).