The Donegal International Rally annually brings out the biggest names in Irish rallying. The 2018 running will be no exception with ten World Rally Cars, 14 R5s and no less than 36 Class 14 modifieds due to start Breenagh on Friday morning.
This year’s entry has been one of surprise, Darren Gass returns to the WRC fold in a Subaru Impreza S14 while young guns Callum Devine and Robert Duggan make the step up from two-wheel drive to Irish Tarmac’s R5 category. Gass may be the dark horse to land a maiden Donegal title but it’s Devine and Duggan that could shake up the Irish Tarmac regulars.
Devine has a good record in Donegal, last year’s 2WD win in the international section kick-started a streak of wins in the Junior British Rally Championship which proved to be the back-bone of his title. Devine’s affiliation with the rally goes back to 2011, the first event he competed in. Hiring a Citroen C2 for the Junior rally just one month after his 17th birthday, it’s safe to say Devine knows all about the Donegal fever.
The 24-year-old is all too aware of the fact that this year hasn’t been what he had hoped for however. Taking the jump into the Junior World Rally Championship was always going to be difficult but it’s the misfortune that once again seems to be hampering the Claudy driver.
“The only way to explain my year so far is if I didn’t have bad luck I’d have no luck at all,” said Devine. “We can’t really put our finger on it at the minute.”
“We are working hard, putting the prep in and we’re trying to get onto the pace as quick as possible but obviously staying sensible.
“We seem to be getting on well and then something pops up near the end.
“At that level I know you can easily lose the fun in it but I am just trying to learn and improve more.
“We’re enjoying it but it definitely has been a tough year.”
The misfortunate has crept into his preparation for Donegal, stifling plans for a period of pre-event testing. A two-week delay in an Evo 2 upgrade meant he was unable take his Ford Fiesta R5 to the Circuit of Munster, which was planned to be a test for Donegal. It’s an upgrade that’s essential for any ambush on the top ITRC competitors but the delay has added a significant limitation to his preparations.
“I’ll have to find my feet on Friday because everything really has worked against us with the delays.”
“Come Saturday or Sunday though I’d like to be mixing it in around the top R5 times if I can.
“If there is any event I could do it – it would be Donegal. I have an experience and understanding of the stages up there.”
Devine admits there is no point trying to beat the top drivers on his first asphalt event in an R5. He’s not going to be lying down though and will certainly want to prove his pace on the second half of the three-day event.
“You don’t spend the money to do Donegal just to go and tip around, I’ll try and get the speed up as quickly as I can. That’s the plan.”
“I know if there is any time to see what my pace is like in an R5 it is going to be June in Donegal.
“The pace always ups when it comes to Donegal, no matter what class you’re in and if you’re not on it you’ll get left behind.
“It’ll help having Rob there too, we’ll be bringing each other on.
“He has proved his pace in everything, front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and the [Mitsubishi] Evo.
“This is his last one to prove so he’ll definitely be going for it too.
“If I was one of the Moffetts I wouldn’t want to be looking over and seeing Rob or myself coming and matching the times so it’ll be interesting!”.
While Devine has been travelling around Europe with the WRC, Duggan has been pounding a Ford Escort Mk2 around Ireland. It may be less glamourous but it would be foolish to discount its worth as preparation for tackling Donegal in an R5.
Duggan’s speed in Killarney is always sensational but his drive at the Rally of The Lakes in May took it to another level. Finishing seventh overall in the Class 14 Escort isn’t even the full story as he battled through issues over the weekend. The commitment was sensational but the question remains if he can transfer his mastery of Killarney’s famous stages to Donegal’s equivalent.
“To get the national win in Killarney was something special to both me and my sister,” said Duggan. “It will be hard to get that win again but I’m looking forward to being back next year in my own car for another go.”
“We decided that it would be good to continue and do Donegal. We couldn’t find a suitable Escort so we looked into an R5 and now here we are.
“Preparation is going good, I’ve been fitted into the car and I’m trying to get my head around this huge opportunity but I’m looking forward to it.
“This will be the first time sitting in one, I’m feeling good but it will take a lot of learning.
“You don’t just jump into these cars and be on the pace of the top lads but for sure by the end of the weekend I will want to try and punch in a good time against them at the very least.
“I’m going to bed myself in on Friday and get a feeling with the car and we will take it from there.
“When it feels right I’ll push, until then, unless someone wants to put the insurance excess in my bank account, I’ll be taking my time getting into it.”
Like Devine, Duggan has tasted success in Donegal before, taking the Junior Rally win back in 2015. Duggan was the R2 master that year, beating the rapid Jon Armstrong to the N.I. 2WD championship. Armstrong himself set a WRC2 fastest time on his R5 debut in Germany, proof that you can’t discount youth against experience. Duggan admitted his lack of R5 seat-time could mean he’ll be chasing Devine’s tail after Friday’s opening stages.
“I’m sure Callum will be seriously fast in Donegal, he has had a rally in an R5 so I’m sure we will be chasing him on Friday but hopefully we can have a good race with him over the three days if we aren’t too far behind on Friday.”
Many a spectator in Donegal would love to be watching Duggan trashing a Mk2 up Knockalla’s famous hillclimb on Saturday but his one-off R5 drive certainly adds another intriguing aspect to an already exciting Donegal Rally.
Both Duggan and Devine know each other’s strengths but both will be aiming to be the top R5 rookie in Donegal. As often happens in motorsport, perhaps this dual will push both drivers into the cusp of the Moffetts, Barrable and Henry come Sunday’s challenging stages.