After the success of our Top Ten race drivers and our subsequent Top Ten F1 drivers from 2015, we decided to do something similar for rallying. After a little bit of searching we persuaded a knowledgeable rally fan to pen the piece for us. Unsurprisingly, given the debate that the Race Drivers piece triggered, he, or possibly she, has chosen to remain anonymous. So here, from the virtual pen of #Rallyman, is the Rally Drivers Ten of 2015…..
1) Donagh Kelly
There could only be one driver at the top of this list. Donagh Kelly swept the board in 2015 taking both the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship and the Triton Showers National Rally Championship. Donagh tackled 14 rallies in 2015, finished them all, won 10 and only ended up outside the top 3 places on one occasion (and that was just a fun day out in Lurgan Park with his son navigating). His dominance was such, that he secured the national title in July and the ITRC crown in August. Donagh plans to take a step back in 2016 and rally for fun, but there was no doubt about it, 2015 was his year.
2) Rob Duggan
The freshly crowned Billy Coleman Award winner really stepped up in 2015. His speed was never in doubt but the Killarney man showed great versatility in 2015, using 4 cars in an action packed year which even saw him tackle 2 events, in Down and Cork, in the same weekend! Duggans focus was on the inaugural Carryduff Forklift R2 championship in Northern Ireland this year which he eventually secured after a season long tussle with the prodigiously talented Fermanagh youngster, Jon Armstrong. Duggan cast aside doubts over his loose surface pace to claim the title on the final round in Antrim securing the prize of a fully funded drive on Wales Rally GB in a Citroen DS3 R3T. Traditionally a difficult car to master, Duggan mastered the Citroen to set a series of stunning times in the WRC3 category on his first World Championship event. His 2016 plans are yet to be revealed but rest assured, this guy is going places.
3) Craig Breen
In some ways, it was a year of what might have been for Craig Breen. Exhilarating highs in the European Championship were tempered with frustration, as was his WRC2 campaign but his rich vein of form in the opening half of the season that saw him take 3 ERC wins on the trot was pretty special, let alone the fact that the wins came on snow (Latvia), tarmac (Circuit of Ireland) and gravel in the Azores. Gradually though, Breen’s championship lead ebbed away with an a litany of mechanical failures in his Peugeot 208 T16. 2015 still had one final twist for Breen, as he was revealed as a driver in the Dbu Dhabi Racing World Rally Team where he will tackle selected WRC events in 2016 in a works Citroen DS3 WRC.
4) Daniel McKenna
There’s few people in Irish rallying as determined as Daniel McKenna. The reigning British Champion decided to really make a go of things in 2015 attempting the Junior World Rally Championship and while it didn’t work out, what he did was amazing. He was fastest on the opening stage in Monte Carlo, in the dark, in the snow and ice, on his first time on studded tyres, by 11 seconds. A time penalty on stage 2 maybe showed a little naivety at the top level but he was second fastest on stage 2, and fastest again on 3. Then the gearbox went into self destruct mode and with no spare that was it. On the following round in Portugal, McKenna led again only to go off after getting caught in the dust of a slower car. His JWRC hopes now lay on a good finish in Finland but while in 4th place, McKenna hit a jump too hard, landed on the cars nose and damaged the cooling, forcing retirement and the end of his JWRC dream. But out of despair came hope, Daniel received an offer to drive and develop Brendan Kelly’s Millington engined Toyota GT86 and he also had a number of outings in Pauric Duffy’s Ford Fiesta R5. It was a weird year for Daniel but in many ways Joey and Jimmy summed it up in the closing line in The Commitments.
Joey: “Look, I know you’re hurtin’ now, but in time you’ll realize what you’ve achieved.”
Jimmy: “I’ve achieved nothing!”
Joey: “You’re missin’ the point. The success of the band was irrelevant – you raised their expectations of life, you lifted their horizons. Sure we could have been famous and made albums and stuff, but that would have been predictable. This way it’s poetry.”
5) Declan Gallagher
Declan Gallagher put in another stunning season to ensure his little Toyota Starlet (or “Wee Charlie” as it’s affectionately known) is now one of the most legendary cars in Irish rallying history. Over the last 3 seasons, Gallagher and his ever encouraging co-driver Ryan Moore have produced a string of stunning drives, and they just seem to get faster and faster. It’s amazing enough Gallagher consistently beats more powerful, better developed Mark 2 Escorts in the 2 litre Starlet but this year he started to beat World Rally Cars, regularly. The high water mark of his season was probably the Galway Summer Rally where he took a fastest stage time and a podium finish with a stunning drive. Nobody left a stage this year until Gallagher, Moore and Wee Charlie had passed by. Gallagher remains coy on his 2016 plans but a change of car has been rumoured. You get the feeling his story may only just be starting…
6) Josh Moffett
Josh Moffett has done so much rallying that’s hard to believe he is not yet even 24 years old. The Clontibret driver followed in the footsteps of his elder brother Sam this year, stepping up to a Ford Fiesta World Rally Car. After a solid debut in Galway we soon got to see how rapid Josh can be. His pace on day 2 in West Cork was hugely impressive, and this was followed up by a fastest time and a podium against Europe’s best on the Circuit of Ireland and a thrilling home win in Monaghan where he pipped Sam to the winning post after a day long battle. After the Circuit and Monaghan the Fiesta outings were sporadic with impressive showings in both the Azores and Ypres before accidents caused retirements. He rounded out his season by finishing 14th on Wales Rally GB and also secured the Valvoline Irish Forestry Championship driving a Misubishi Lancer Evo 9. Both Moffett brothers are planning a dual assault on the Irish and British Championships next year in R5 cars, but which R5 cars nobody knows.
7) Frank Kelly
Frank gets his place in the top 10, not just for his driving ability, but also his PR capabilities. No rally or race driver in Ireland promotes themselves like Frank. Look around any junction at any rally in Ireland, the amount of Kelly Motorsport jackets, hoodies, polo shirts and hats is staggering. In the service area beside Franks Mark 2 Escort is a full merchandise stand, where his wife Rosemarie will sell you anything from a mug to a DVD produced by their daughter Lauren. Several clips of Frank have gone well and truly global, some with over a MILLION views, which is mighty impressive stuff. And Frank has also ventured to the Caribbean in recent years to take in a few events in the sunshine and form a fan base on the other side of the globe with his spectacular driving.
8) Joe McGonigle
Former kart racer McGonigle had a brilliant first season behind the wheel of ex Sebastian Ogier Skoda Fabia S2000. Once McGonigle got the grips with the car he really started to fly, picking up his first overall win on the Dogleap Rally and amassing enough points win his class in the Tarmac Championship. Not only that, McGonigle finished second overall in the series outright and his results netted his navigator Ciaran Geaney the 2015 co-drivers title. With the championship moving towards R5 and S2000 cars in 2016, McGonigle could be poised to spring a surprise.
9) Jonathan Pringle
40 years on and the Mark 2 Escort is still winning championships! Jonathan Pringle secured a brace of titles in his self prepared Escort taking both the Sligo Pallets Border Rally Championship and the Mark 2 National Challenge. The latter title was particularly hard fought as it went to a final round shootout between Pringle and fellow Cavan driver, Chris Armstrong. Pringle held his never over tricky stages where he suffered a big accident in 2013 to finish 11.9 seconds ahead of Armstrong to claim the title.
10) Vince McSweeney
McSweeney claimed the Southern 4 Junior Championship in 2015 in his Honda Civic with some eye catching drives along the way. The young Corkman runs on a shoestring budget but when he gets out, there are very few people in Class 11F who could deal with him. In West Cork in particular he was impressive but he was just on quick in neutral ground as junior wins in Birr and Galway showed. His speed was rewarded with a Billy Coleman Award nomination.