2018 is going to be a significant year for five times Irish Tarmac Rally Champion, Eugene Donnelly as he unveils a brand new state of the art Hyundai i20 R5 machine on the MRF Tyres stand at the Autosport International Show in Birmingham’s NEC Arena. It’s a dramatic return to Irish rallying for one of the most supported drivers in its long history. “I’m so excited it’s just absolutely fantastic” said Eugene known by many fans as “the Genie”. “I have been working on this deal for over a year now with Hyundai Customer Racing and MRF Tyres and to be unveiling the car at the NEC is just amazing. I can’t wait to return to the stages, but this new chapter is not just about me, but a new team, development of the Hyundai R5, and the new MRF Tyres. There’s been a lot of activity behind the scenes to get here, with even the sign-writers CBM Signs flying over from Donegal to put the finishing touches onto the car yesterday.”
After Irish Tarmac titles and not forgetting Irish National, Northern Ireland Rally Championship and an Irish Forestry title, many will be surprised at Eugene’s decision to make a come-back. “I love rallying, Irish rallying in particular and the Irish Tarmac Championship, and I always had a return in the back of my mind. I hope that in some ways I can help to bring back a bit of life to the Tarmac Championship as I feel it’s been in a real dip lately and needs to get the general public back behind it again. I think the whole focus on social media has brought it to the attention of its existing supporters, not the wider public, and I hope my involvement with these blue-chip companies could help to change that.”
The 2018 Hyundai Customer Racing R5 four-wheel drive weapon, has been built to the latest specification, and with great technical support provided by the Korean car company and tremendous support from MRF Tyres, added to by Eugene’s long-time personal sponsors PPP Group, Sligo Pallets and McGeehan Motorsport, the whole project has come together. “I’m indebted to these companies for their assistance, and it’s superb to be involved with companies such as Hyundai and MRF Tyres. We have an opportunity to develop a new range of tyre products with MRF, as this massive manufacturer moves more into the European market. MRF Tyres already have had championship victories on the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, and have produced a very successful gravel tyre for the Irish and UK forests. There is a lot of expertise in-house to help our development program. My role is to use my previous experience to develop the most competitive rally tyre for Irish tarmac.”
Round one of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship is the West Cork Rally in March, but Eugene is not yet certain whether that will be the team’s debut. “This is a three-year development program for the team, and if I feel we are not ready for West Cork we will give it a miss. I realistically don’t expect to have the pace of the current drivers such as Sam Moffett who are now winning the rallies, and it’s not my intention to go out and try to win. If i can get the car and tyres up a certain level of competitiveness, and I feel that I can’t achieve any more I’d be more than happy to step out and give a young driver a chance, and further develop the team. This is more about creating a winning team with Hyundai and MRF Tyres and it could be a vehicle to help the next generation of rally-driver to get to the top.”
One thing is for sure the return of Eugene Donnelly to the Irish Tarmac Rally scene in a new R5 Hyundai i20 R5 will significantly raise the sport’s interest and awareness once again, with the excitement mirroring the NEC Show eleven years ago when he unveiled a shiny silver Subaru S12!
Donnelly’s plans for a full season of Irish rallying in 2018 will continue the growth of Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing’s i20 R5 project. “For a driver with as much experience and pace as Eugene to choose an i20 R5 for his return to competition is a sign of how highly he rates our car,” said Hyundai Motorsport Senior Sales Associate Andrew Johns. “For he and his team to be able to attract support from MRF Tyres shows the high level at which they expect to perform and we are very pleased they have made the i20 R5 part of their team. The unveiling at the Autosport International Show is certain to gather a lot of attention so should be a great start to a fantastic season.”