Irish rallying rocked by Manus Kelly tragedy at the Donegal International
No one could take it in. Manus Kelly was dead, killed on the rally he had dominated for the past three years.
The Donegal International was his rally and the ever-smiling Letterkenny businessman with a passion for motorsport and politics was the first driver to win it three years in a row. He proudly claimed it was the achievement of his life, a dream come true.
But yesterday it claimed his life and left co-driver Donall Barrett injured.
It brought the three-day event, the fifth round of the premier Irish Tarmac Championship, to a premature end, leaving Sam Moffett and James Fulton to be declared the winners.
The victory meant nothing to them as they and the Irish rally community absorbed the shock of Kelly's death on the Fanad Head stage yesterday afternoon.
Kelly had been in sixth place restarting the final leg of the rally yesterday but crashed during the first stage of the day, Fanad Head, his car spinning off the road and through a hedge.
He lived in Glenswilly, Co Donegal, with his wife Bernie and five children, the youngest of whom is just two years old.
Apparently out of sight in a field, the next few drivers passed by unaware of the unfolding tragedy.
Moffett, Breen and the others at the top of the leaderboard were unaware, too, and were already on their way to the next stage at Atlantic Drive when the rally radios crackled, bringing word to call a halt.
A convoy of subdued crews turned and headed back to Letterkenny. What had been a joyous, hugely attended and fiercely fought event had ended in the least expected, most tragic way.
The positions in the rally were declared final with Moffett taking the victory by 14 seconds from Breen, the first time the former Citroen World Championship driver has been beaten in the Irish Tarmac series.
Monaghan man Moffett, a triple Irish champion two years ago, had held off a sustained challenge from Breen to win in Donegal for a second time, leading from Friday afternoon.
Breen, who’d elected to switch from the R5 Fiestas in which he won the first four Tarmac rounds to a WRC version, was never comfortable, saying he was “taking the maximum from the package he had beneath him”.
With their WRC Fiestas ineligible for Tarmac points, the top Championship scorer was Callum Devine who might have been declared the driver of the rally in any other circumstances for his third place in his R5 Fiesta. The former British Junior champion from Co Derry was just 27 seconds behind Breen and ahead of the WRC Subaru of Garry Jennings. Josh Moffett was fifth with Alastair Fisher sixth.