It's advantage Manus after he shows grit to regain Donegal lead
It was Manus Kelly, chasing an elusive hat-trick of Joule Donegal International Rally wins, who emerged at the top of an ever-changing leaderboard at the end of day one.
Seeking to become only the third driver in the rally's history to win three years in a row, Kelly brought his S12 Subaru Impreza WRC, crewed by co-driver Donall Barrett, back to Letterkenny last night with a 21-second lead having see-sawed from first to fifth and up to the front again.
Despite the opening leg of the three-day Irish Tarmac Championship round consisting of just six stages, there was drama all the way and Manus Kelly was one of three drivers who held the lead for a time.
It was local man Manus who was quickest out of the blocks to surge ahead on the first stage at Breenagh but he spun on the wet, slippery stage two, Cark Mountain, dropping to fifth.
Namesake Donagh Kelly, another Donegal driver, sprinted into the lead - only for the former Tarmac champion's Ford Focus WRC to slide off the road on stage three, Letterleague.
Up stepped Garry Jennings, a two-time winner, to jump in front in his WRC Subaru, and the Fermanagh man led by 14 seconds from a recovering Manus Kelly as the cars headed into the first service break.
Jennings stayed ahead on the re-run of the Breenagh stage but then cut a corner too tight towards the end of Cark Mountain, damaging a wheel and dropping to third as Manus Kelly regained the lead ahead of the S14 Subaru of Darren Gass.
But both Gass and Jennings were overhauled on the final stage of the day by the WRC Ford Fiesta of Declan Boyle, although less than half a minute covers the top four positions.
With WRC cars ineligible for Tarmac points, Josh Moffett, in fifth place in his R5 Fiesta, was the leading Championship contender, but he was only seven seconds ahead of one of the stars of the day, Rob Duggan.
It was the 2016 Young Driver of the Year's first time in an R5 Fiesta but he stormed up to sixth position and ahead of the reigning Tarmac champion Sam Moffett.
Also starring was Callum Devine, the 2017 Young Driver, another R5 rookie, who was eighth and ahead of Robert Barrable.