Donagh Kelly won the opening round of the National Rally Championship when electrical failure forced reigning champion, Josh Moffett, to retire from the rally lead after the penultimate stage of the Mayo Stages Rally.
Top seed Moffett led the event from the first stage, setting fastest times on the opening three stages. Just when it looked as though the Monaghan driver would record his second rally win of the year he was forced to retire his Hyundai i20 R5 on the road section to the final stage.
“We had a good race with Josh [Moffett], and Roy [White] was going very fast behind us,” said Kelly at the end of the final stage. “It’s great now to be going to West Cork next weekend having more time in the car.”
Kelly and co-driver Conor Foley, who won the final round of last year’s championship, had held second for most of the rally before taking advantage of Moffett’s misfortune to score his second victory in his Volkswagen Polo R5. Kelly briefly dropped to third when he lost 20 seconds following the punctured Ford Fiesta WRC of Roy White on Stage 4. A fastest time on the following stage and a second-fastest time on Stage 6 was enough to move him back above Peader Hurson, although he remained 21.5 seconds behind Moffett. Kelly then closed the gap to the leader to 8.5 seconds before Moffett’s retirement. White recovered from his puncture, setting three fastest times on the remaining five stages to finish in second.
A roll on the penultimate stage effectively cost Hurson a podium position and it was the two Ford Escorts of Gary Kiernan and David Bogie who were left to fight for it. Bogie was just over ten seconds behind Kiernan heading into the final 14.8 km stage. A big push by the Scotsman was enough for the stage’s second-fastest time but wasn’t enough to usurp Kiernan’s grip on two-wheel-drive honours.
The battle between the pair of modified rivals was intense throughout the day. In Bogie’s push to catch Kiernan he set a third fastest time on Stage 7 only 1.6 seconds slower than the stage-winning time set by Kelly’s Polo R5. The time reduced Bogie’s overall deficit to Kiernan to 4.3 seconds, only for Kiernan to respond brilliantly on Stage 8 to build a gap just big enough to keep Bogie behind on the final stage. The magnificent display deserved even greater acclamation considering the wet and mucky conditions which are less favourable for the two-wheel-drive crews.
Rounding out the top five was the Class 13 Toyota Starlet of Jason Black and Karl Egan. The young pairing put in another impressive drive to finish ahead of Declan McCrory’s Fiesta R5 and the Toyota Corolla of Class 13 rival Raymond Conlon. Black made his intentions clear early on with a fifth fastest time on the rally’s opening stage, only eight seconds slower than Moffett’s stage winning time.
Eamonn Kelly made it a double success for the Donegal family as he won Class 2 in his Ford Fiesta R2T, finishing 15th overall. Early class leader William Creighton was put out of the rally on Stage 3 after a collision with a rock broke a wheel on his Fiesta R2T. He returned under Rally2 for the final three stages with one stage win going to Creighton and two to Kelly.
Photo by Kevin Glendinning
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