There are not many people who can claim to have won a rally on their debut trip to Belgium. Killarney’s Colin O’Donoghue is one of the few who can after winning the prized Escort Rally Special last weekend.
O’Donoghue’s victory is all the more impressive considering it wasn’t just his first trip to Belgium but in fact his first rally outside Ireland. Belgium’s Escort Rally Special was the 26-year-old’s fourth rally outside Munster and only his sixth event in a “senior” category.
The Kerryman’s 28-second winning margin over local driver Jan-Pieter Maeyaert would suggest it was a straightforward cruise to victory but as he explains it was anything but.
“Pure drama would be one way of putting it,” started O’Donoghue.
“On stage six, our paddle-shift stopped working. I think we had a leak in the pump so we had no flat-shift on the gearstick. We had to clutch and release the throttle in places instead.
“Then, we burst a rear shock absorber on stage eight so we had to do three stages just on the spring. Those last stages were hairy enough.
“On the last regroup as well we didn’t know what the story was with stage-times because mine weren’t showing on the results. I thought we were seven seconds down but we were actually 20-odd seconds up.
“We didn’t find that out until we got into service just before the final super special.
“The only comfortable thing about it was how many Irish folk that were there. It was like Parc Ferme in Donegal or something.
“We were treated like celebrities, everyone was just delighted to have the Irish over there. You could see all the fans really appreciated it.”
Adding to the issues was the fact O’Donoghue missed his pre-event shakedown in Belgium after the team’s ferry crossing was delayed. The all O’Donoghue crew had to make their own pacenotes for the first time as well.
The duo led the Irish charge throughout Sunday’s 10 stages. Heading into the last loop of four tarmac tests they were just 12 seconds off Dutch leader Bob Kellen.
“Bob was having an absolutely fantastic run,” described O’Donoghue. “Unfortunately he had a really big accident going into the last loop.
“We had a few words before the stage and I think it got a bit hot. He didn’t make it through the stage but thankfully they are both okay.
“Hopefully we’ll meet on the stages again to fight another day.
“I was going as hard as I could. I know my limit and any more than that I don’t think the car would look the same going over the finish line.”
With pace like that, many will hope O’Donoghue is a regular in Ireland now that rallying returns closer to home. It’s just not as simple as that, however, and O’Donoghue explained how they just about made the logistics of the Escort Rally Special work.
A couple of rallies are in his pipeline to finish off the year and he has some plans for 2022. For now though, he’s just happy to know he’s the fastest Escort driver on Belgium tar.
“I am delighted with the result especially considering it was my first time competing outside Ireland and how big an eye-opener it was for me.
“I have to thank everyone who made it possible as well. GDM Preparation for a flawlessly prepped JDK Sport Rally Hire Escort and to everyone that helped over the weekend too.
“Thanks to the Michelin guys for their support as well. We ran their tyres which worked a treat all weekend on stages that were incredibly difficult. That’s one thing we learned in Belgium, the grip changes so much throughout every stage.”
Photos by Automag.be