Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan secured their third Irish Tarmac Rally win on the trot, clinching a maiden Donegal International Rally victory.
Devine finished the 20-stage event 55.5 seconds ahead of Matt Edwards and David Moynihan who fought back from tenth after differential trouble on stage one.
It was Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes who started the Donegal International Rally strongest, though. The defending winners completed Friday’s extremely bumpy stages around Donegal Town with a 4.9-second lead over Devine’s Volkswagen Polo R5. Moffett was on fire in the June heat aboard his Hyundai i20 R5 – winning four of the six stages on Donegal’s opening day. Devine, who was as far back as 11.3 seconds after stage three, cracked his Polo’s windscreen on one of Rockhill’s brutal jumps before surviving a near miss on stage three. The 29-year-old landed into a bank after a jump in Copany, leaving a trail of grass and muck in his trail as he lived to tell the tale.
Garry Jennings and Sam Moffett fought for third on Friday with the latter moving ahead of his fellow Donegal Rally winner on stage four. The heavens opened on Saturday morning to give Donegal’s 100+ crews a tyre choice headache as they left Letterkenny’s service area. Devine was fastest on a wet Carnhill stage, beating Josh Moffett by 5.3 seconds and moving into a 0.4-second lead. Moffett responded straight away on Saturday’s second test, a greasy Garrygort. His Hyundai i20 R5 was fastest through stage eight by 1.1 seconds, retaking the lead from Devine.
The Donegal Rally duel continued as the cars approached the famous Knockalla hairpins. As if to add more suspense, the stage was delayed for an hour with rain falling on the 19-kilometre test just before the top crews were released from the Portsalon start-line.
Matt Edwards was the fastest driver over the spectacular pass. His first stage win of the weekend put him within two seconds of sixth-placed Desi Henry. Devine attacked Knockalla’s hairpins, putting thoughts of cold tyres, cold brakes, and wet roads to the back of his mind. His Volkswagen Polo R5 coped with the last-minute braking and rewarded Devine’s efforts with a time 7.2 seconds faster than Josh Moffett.
Devine further extended his lead over Moffett to 15 seconds over stages 10, 11, and 12. But just when it looked like he had found an ominously smooth groove, the rally was to turn back towards Moffett’s favour.
A set-up change in service left Josh Moffett feeling much happier aboard his Hyundai, especially on the drier sections. The technical tweaks did the trick as he finally broke Devine’s grip on Carnhill with Moffett finishing closest to Edwards’ breathtaking benchmark.
As Moffett found his mojo, Devine had made a mistake. An overshoot on one of Carnhill’s greasy junctions cost the rally leader several seconds and halved his advantage over Moffett. Edwards made it a hat-trick of stage wins on Saturday’s Garrygort finale. His turn of speed through Saturday moved him from seventh to fourth, ending the day 5.1 seconds behind third-placed Sam Moffett. Garry Jennings had no answer to Edwards’ newfound pace and his focus is now on keeping fifth from Meirion Evans who finished Saturday 3.8 seconds behind in sixth.
Josh Moffett managed to sneak a further 2.6 seconds out of Devine’s rally lead on Garrygort to finish day two 4.7 seconds behind his Irish Tarmac Rally Championship rival. Overnight leaders, Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan started Donegal’s final day in perfect fashion. The Circuit of Ireland and Rally of the Lakes winners set the fastest times on High Glen and Atlantic Drive to build a 17.7-second lead over Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes heading into Fanad Head.
Devine’s grasp on victory faced a different threat on Fanad Head when rain rolled into the coastal test. He hoped his pre-Fanad advantage would be enough when he approached the wet sections with caution. What he didn’t know, though, was that Josh Moffett’s Donegal International Rally defence had come to blows near the end of the 17.9-kilometre test. Searching for every second in his chase of Devine, Moffett slid wide on a medium left-hander and his Hyundai i20 R5 clattered into a bank. The impact broke the Hyundai’s rear right wheel, putting Moffett out of the rally with three stages remaining. Devine now held a 53.1-second lead over Sam Moffett with a single pass of High Glen, Atlantic Drive, and Fanad Head left to go. The County Derry driver encountered impromptu downpours of rain, thunder, and lightning over High Glen and Atlantic Drive but his focus was untouchable.
Devine and O’Sullivan kept their composure, and maintained a high pace of driving, to win Donegal’s final stage – an impressive way to secure their first-ever Donegal International Rally win. Matt Edwards usurped Sam Moffett in High Glen’s wet conditions, secured a runner-up finish in his Polo R5. Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson finished fourth overall, moving ahead of Garry Jennings on stage 15. Jennings tumbled down the leaderboard on Sunday after a strong performance on the rally’s first two days. The Fermanagh driver lost his flat-shift gear changes on the first loop before his Ford Fiesta Rally2 cut out twice on Atlantic Drive. Jennings and co-driver Rory Kennedy eventually finished eighth behind Robert Barrable, Ryan Loughran, and Jonny Greer.
Dylan Eves and Ryan Farrell reigned supreme in Donegal International Rally’s Rally4 category, finishing 59.2 seconds ahead of Shane Quinn and Patrick Brides. Rally of the Lakes winner, Ioan Lloyd set Donegal’s initial pace, winning all of Friday’s six stages. Lloyd had built a 40.9-second advantage over fellow Peugeot 208 Rally4 pilot Keelan Grogan and was an incredible 28th overall over stage six. Unfortunately, both Lloyd and Grogan failed to make it through Saturday’s very first stage. Lloyd understeered on a shiny section of asphalt in Carnhill, clipping a bank and rolling out of the rally. Grogan slid wide on the same stage, hitting a tree and breaking a wheel. The recent Billy Coleman Award nominee was able to return under super-rally regulations for Sunday’s stages. Out of nowhere, Eves and Quinn were now locked in a battle for the category win. Quinn briefly sneaked ahead by 0.1 seconds on Saturday’s penultimate stage before Eves pumped in a rapid time through Garrygort to lead overnight by 17.3 seconds. A fastest time, 25.1 seconds faster than any of his Rally4 rivals, through High Glen 2 put Eves in a dominant position with two tests remaining. He continued to extend his lead to eventually finish 59.2 seconds ahead of Quinn with Joseph Kelly completing the top three.
McEvoy Motorsport Modified ITRC
Kevin Gallagher and Ryan Moore brought their Darrian T90 safely home to a massive two-minute, 19-second modified victory over Damien Tourish and Domhnall McAlaney. Gallagher was down in fifth position after Donegal’s opening Donegal Bay test. Instead, it was Kevin Eves who was setting searing pace in his Toyota Corolla. He led Richard Moffett’s Toyota Starlet by four seconds after stage two. Modified’s top two encountered trouble as early as stage three, though. Eves lost 28.1 seconds when a mistake punctured and bent a cross member in his rear-wheel-drive Corolla. Moffett was forced to retire on the same stage with mechanical issues. It propelled Gallagher into a lead he wouldn’t let go of for the rest of the rally. Daniel McKenna briefly held second in modifieds on Friday before he was forced to stop on day one’s final test with technical trouble. Stage wins on all eight tests through Saturday increased Gallagher’s lead to nearly one and a half minutes over Eves who was now focusing on keeping Tourish behind. Tourish, who hasn’t competed on a closed-road rally since last year’s edition, was pressuring Eves’ runner-up spot before Eves’ Toyota Corolla gave up the ghost with two stages to go. David Moffett and Martin Connolly completed the modified podium after fighting back from a one-minute time-sucking spin on the rally’s second stage.
Synergy Motorsport Engineering Historic ITRC
Michael McDaid and Declan Casey sealed a 29.1-second victory in the Historic Donegal Rally. They finished ahead of Duncan Williams and Guy Weaver, whose runner-up finish put them in a near-invincible position at the top of the Historic ITRC standings. Adrian Hetherington and Ronan O’Neill started the Historic Rally fastest on its Carnhill opener. They were 1.5 seconds quicker than Martin McCormack’s BMW M3 on the 15.7-kilometre test.
The top two crews dropped out of the rally on Knockalla as Tommy O’Connell and Thomas Wedlock moved into the lead with a 20.4-second fastest time. Williams slipped into second, ahead of Trevor Wilson who was to have his hands full to hold onto third through Saturday afternoon.
Wilson, who was driving a Ford Escort RS1800 in Donegal, lost fifth gear for Saturday’s final three stages. He managed to hold onto third by the end of Saturday, 18.3 seconds behind Williams and Weaver. A string of fastest times propelled McDaid and Casey into the historic lead through Saturday afternoon, leading Williams by 33.9 seconds with six stages to go on Sunday. The top three remained unchanged through Sunday with Martin Doherty and Andy Johnson completing the top five.
Paul Browne Civil Engineering & Plant Hire Junior ITRC
Leading Junior ITRC drivers Robbie O’Hanlon, Darragh O’Donovan, and Darach Bonner failed to make it through their very first stage on Sunday.
O’Hanlon went off in High Glen while O’Donovan’s back brakes locked and Bonner’s Honda Civic suffered gearbox failure. Gary Cassidy and Ben McIntyre were tied for first after High Glen’s opener, 3.5 seconds ahead of Jack McKenna. Cassidy moved ahead on Atlantic Drive, going 3.7 seconds faster than McIntyre who was now just 0.2 seconds ahead of McKenna.
A series of stage cancellations left Donegal’s final Fanad Head test as the Junior’s shoot-out for victory. McKenna set the timesheets alight with his effort, 4.9 seconds quicker than anyone else to clinch the Junior Donegal Rally victory by one second over Cassidy.
Ben McIntyre and Andrew Wedlock completed the podium positions, securing top Junior ITRC points that reignites their championship hopes.
DIR23_DEVINE_DH_01 (by D Harrigan Images): 2023 Donegal International Rally winners Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan.
DIR23_DEVINE_DH_02 (by D Harrigan Images): Callum Devine holds the 2023 Donegal International Rally winners’ trophy.