Sometimes you go to an event that reminds you how special it is to follow rallying in Ireland, with its rich heritage. For me, Saturday’s Donegal Harvest Rally was one of those.
Donegal is the home of Irish rallying.
The Harvest’s big brother, Donegal International Rally, gets the limelight but of the three times I have gone to the Harvest Rally, I am yet to leave disappointed.
The 2017 running of the Donegal Harvest won’t be remembered for a big overall battle, although Peadar Hurson’s dominant victory was impressive considering how he drove the Ford Fiesta RS WRC through a misfiring engine.
This year’s rally was to be special because of the stories that were to come out of the Portnablagh-based event. It all started with two-time Donegal International winner, John Lyons, flagging the crews over the start ramp on Saturday morning.
Donagh Kelly swapped his Ford Focus WRC for a beautiful Opel Ascona 400, thrilling spectators while on 00 duty. Unfortunately, I am too young to appreciate the significance of the 1988 James Cullen replica, but I have to admit I fell in love with the Ascona’s roar through the scenic North-West stages.
A walk around the car in service was required to recognise the fine details of such a work of art. The Ascona is a special rally car and to see one in such glory was nothing short of a privilege.
Kelly wasn’t the only driver to bring a classic to Donegal on Saturday. Ernie Graham had the Toughmac BMW M3 along but unfortunately had to retire after the opening loop of stages. It was still a pleasure to see the iconic Bertie Fisher replica go through my location on the opening stage.
British Rally Championship driver, Marty McCormack, also joined the party in a historic Ford Escort Mk2. The noise of the BDA engine through the Hills of Donegal was perfect and it was satisfying to hear the manual ZF box back in a Mk2 Escort!
The story of the day, however, has to be Damian Toner and Denver Rafferty’s quick fix of their Class 14 Mk2 going into SS2. With the help of the crew’s class rivals, including Ryan Loughran who beat them to third overall, they were able to continue and finish fourth overall and first in class.
To top it off, at every location I watched from, there was a sizeable crowd viewing the top class entry. It added to the already brilliant atmosphere from one of my favourite rallies in Ireland.