Kelly is on a mission to defy recent history and clinch Donegal hat-trick
Not since the halcyon days of Cahal Curley and Billy Coleman over 30 years ago has any driver won the Donegal International Rally three times in a row.
But could that change this weekend? For the past two years, a local man — Manus Kelly — has rocked up in an S12 Subaru WRC from the Welsh stable of Melvin Evans, a former Irish national champion, and scored emotional wins.
And he’s there again, in the same car with the same co-driver Donall Barrett, topping a capacity line-up which will head out from Letterkenny tomorrow.
With a lengthy background in Mk2 Ford Escorts, Kelly’s transition to a mighty WRC car has been astonishing; indeed, he won the Carlow Rally the first time he got behind the wheel of the Subaru two years ago, a pre-cursor to his out-of-the-blue 2016 Donegal victory.
But he showed it was no fluke by winning again 12 months ago after an intense battle with namesake Donagh Kelly.
However, history shows three wins in a row in Donegal is a tall order, and with a line-up which includes a string of WRC cars in the hands of past Irish Tarmac champions like Garry Jennings, Declan Boyle, Donagh Kelly, Derek McGarrity and a returning Darren Gass, Kelly’s dream hat-trick could prove a stage too far.
One of them will undoubtedly take the overall honours on Sunday, but their points won’t count in the chase for Ireland’s premier rally title, the Tarmac Championship, which is now headlined by the R5 category.
It is turning out to be a tight tussle between the Moffett brothers, Sam and Josh, and Robert Barrable, with just two points covering the top three. Sam is the reigning champion but it is Josh who heads the table.
Jonny Greer and Desi Henry are the leading Ulster drivers in fourth and fifth.
Adding intrigue to the R5 duel is the appearance of Ireland’s two most recent winners of the Billy Coleman Young Driver of the Year Award, Callum Devine and Rob Duggan.
Three testing days kick-off with six stages close to Letterkenny tomorrow afternoon.