After three years of waiting, the Donegal International Rally is almost upon us. Three days and 300 stage kilometres lie ahead of Ireland’s leading rally stars.
An overflowing entry list of 200-plus crews hints at the attraction of the Emerald Isle’s biggest rally.
It’s going to be a good one.
Race for rally honours
Sam Moffett heads a string of potential rally winners. The two-time Donegal Rally winner is seeded first after beating World Rally Championship ace Craig Breen in 2019.
Keith Moriarty is set to navigate for the Monaghan driver. He’ll be hoping Moffett can steer him to his first taste of winning champagne at Donegal’s Mount Errigal finish ramp.
Moffett and Moriarty will man the 2019-winning Ford Fiesta WRC which could neutralise Moffett’s lack of driving so far in 2022. They face stiff competition from the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship’s leading Rally2 crews.
Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan continue their successful early partnership in Donegal. The driver from neighbouring County Derry was fastest of the R5s three years ago.
Punctures and mechanical issues hit Devine’s Irish Tarmac Rally Championship campaign on West Cork and Circuit of Ireland rallies. An impressive run to victory on a thrilling Rally of the Lakes last time out makes Devine ITRC’s form man and a formidable prospect heading to Donegal.
Devine is second in the Irish Tarmac Championship standings, 21 points behind Josh Moffett. However, ITRC’s policy of crews dropping their two lowest scores would reduce Devine’s gap to five points.
Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble will also benefit from dropped scores. They have shown a renewed turn of pace since the Circuit of Ireland, sealing their second international win on the Ballymena-based event.
It looked like Fisher would go two from two in Killarney but a slide into the Kerry bocage on his final stage shootout with Devine instead had him leave Kerry with his first non-finish of the year. It was an unforgiving consequence of braking a car-length too late, Fisher’s sole mistake on an otherwise faultless event.
Moffett, Devine, and Fisher have really upped the ante on recent Irish Tarmac rounds. While ITRC remains their main priority in 2022, a maiden Donegal win would be hard to resist should they find themselves in the mix.
Moffett failed to challenge for a win in Killarney but his assured drive through the barren mountain passes was rewarded with a runner-up finish.
The 2018 Irish Tarmac Champion has cruised to two national rally victories since and is showing no signs of slipping up on his double campaign this year.
Cathan McCourt, Meirion Evans, and Jonny Greer complete Donegal’s leading ITRC contenders. All three drivers have shown they have the ability to set stage-winning times in international rallies this year.
The Citroen and Volkswagen pilots head what is a very strong second half to Donegal Rally’s top ten.
Reigning British Rally Champion Matt Edwards is a welcome addition to Donegal’s entry list. The Welshman had lined up Darren Gass’s Citroen C3 Rally2 to hire for the three-day rally.
Edwards’ deal would put David Moynihan back in the co-driver seat. Edwards had a similar ambition to compete on Galway’s season-opener. That drive fell apart but witnessing Edwards take the fight to Ireland’s best in Donegal seems a more likely prospect.
Desi Henry is another non-ITRC driver heading for the hills. The Maiden City Stages winner set the Circuit of Ireland and Tyrone Stages’ early pace before grinding to a halt with mechanical gremlins.
If his Ford Fiesta Rally2 plays ball over Donegal’s 20 stages, Henry’s form could very well put him and local navigator, Paddy Robinson, in with a shout of victory.
All the drivers mentioned so far, excluding Sam Moffett, have never won Donegal before. There is a good chance we’ll see a new victor on Sunday afternoon.
One driver hoping that isn’t the case is Declan Boyle. The 2014 winner is seeded eighth in his Ford Fiesta WRC. The local favourite has had a torrid run of form and fortune in recent events culminating in a hefty hit on the Tyrone Stages.
Boyle is never far from the pace, in fact, he set it on Donegal’s day one stages three years ago. Another race to home victory would be the perfect remedy for what has been a frustrating rallying year for Boyle so far.
Two-time winners Garry Jennings and Gareth MacHale are seeded ninth and 14th respectively in a right-hand-drive Fiesta and Polo.
There are close to 40 World Rally, Rally2, and R5 cars tackling Donegal this year. Left- and right-hand-drive, it doesn’t matter. With Motorsport Ireland’s recent regulation change, anyone can fight for Donegal’s coveted crown.
Modified mania… try following this battle
There have been quite a few tantalising two-wheel-drive tussles in Ireland this year. Think Jason Black versus Gary Kiernan and Daniel McKenna, Rob Duggan versus Kevin Eves and James Stafford. I’m sure there are more.
Well, unsurprisingly Donegal looks set to blow them all away. Name a two-wheel-drive star and they are there, all gunning for Friday morning’s Dooish Hill start-line.
Ryan Loughran tops the two-wheel-drive list hoping to defend his 2019 National Rally win. The Rally2 preparator come Ford Escort tamer has been gearing up for Donegal by competing on a few single-day rallies in the past month. Loughran claimed two-wheel-drive honours on the last outing in Tyrone.
David Bogie, Gary McPhillips, and Daniel McKenna are three more Mk2 Escort men hoping to add to their winning tally in Donegal. Bogie and McPhillips have topped modifieds in Donegal twice before with McKenna’s 2011 national win good enough for fifth in the overall classification.
Frank Kelly has finished runner-up three times in the past. He’s been in fine form behind the wheel of Baby Blue this year. If there was a year to claim your maiden Donegal win, this would surely be it.
With Kevin Eves, James Stafford, Rob Duggan, Gary Kiernan, Damian Tourish, Kevin Gallagher, and Declan Gallagher all added to the mix, if any modified crew is missing pace, consistency, or luck over the three days, they can wave goodbye to any hope of victory.
Ford Escorts, Darrian T90s, Toyota Corollas and Starlets… there is a mighty mix of modifieds to follow.
A splendid array of historic cars and crews will join the party on Saturday while the ever-competitive juniors will fight for spoils on Sunday.
It has been a long three years. The 2022 Donegal International Rally has all the ingredients to be one of the best ever witnessed. We’ll just have to wait to see how it all pans out.
2022 Donegal International Rally itinerary
SS1 Dooish Hill 1 (15.37 km)
SS2 An Grianan 1 (11.14 km)
SS3 Mouldy Hill 1 (12.99 km)
SS4 Dooish Hill 2 (15.37 km)
SS5 An Grianan 2 (11.14 km)
SS6 Mouldy Hill 2 (12.99 km)
SS7 Carnhill 1 (14.19 km)
SS8 Fanad Head 1 (19.88 km)
SS9 Knockalla 1 (19.61 km)
SS10 Carnhill 2 (14.19 km)
SS11 Fanad Head 2 (19.88 km)
SS12 Knockalla 2 (19.61 km)
SS13 Carnhill 3 (14.19 km)
SS14 Fanad Head 3 (19.88 km)
SS15 Gartan 1 (15.64 km)
SS16 High Glen 1 (12.00 km)
SS17 Atlantic Drive 1 (12.87 km)
SS18 Gartan 2 (15.64 km)
SS19 High Glen 2 (12.00 km)
SS20 Atlantic Drive 2 (12.87 km)
Entry list (Top 16)
1 Sam Moffett – Keith Moriarty (Ford Fiesta WRC)
2 Callum Devine – Noel O’Sullivan (Volkswagen Polo R5)
3 Josh Moffett – Andy Hayes (Hyundai i20 R5)
4 Alastair Fisher – Gordon Noble (Polo R5)
5 Matt Edwards – David Moynihan (Citroen C3 Rally2)
6 Cathan McCourt – Liam Moynihan (C3 Rally2)
7 Meirion Evans – Jonathan Jackson (Polo R5)
8 Declan Boyle – James O’Reilly (Fiesta WRC)
9 Garry Jennings – Rory Kennedy (Fiesta R5)
10 Jonny Greer – Dai Roberts (C3 Rally2)
11 Desi Henry – Paddy Robinson (Fiesta Rally2)
12 Seamus Leonard – John McCaffrey (Fiesta Rally2)
14 Gareth MacHale – Brian Murphy (Polo R5)
15 Eamonn Kelly – Conor Mohan (Polo R5)
16 Joseph McGonigle – Ciaran Geaney (Fiesta R5)
17 David Kelly – Dean O’Sullivan (Fiesta R5)
Two-wheel-drive (Top 16)
18 Ryan Loughran – Gareth Doherty (Ford Escort Mk2)
19 Kevin Eves – Chris Melly (Toyota Corolla)
20 Daniel McKenna – Andrew Grennan (Escort)
21 Damien Tourish – Domhnall McAlaney (Escort)
22 James Stafford – Thomas Scallan (Darrian T90)
23 Declan Gallagher – Derek Heena (Toyota Starlet)
24 David Bogie – John Rowan (Escort)
25 Kevin Gallagher – Ryan Moore (Darrian T90)
26 Gary Kiernan – Darren O’Brien (Escort)
27 Rob Duggan – Ger Conway (Escort)
28 Frank Kelly – Lauren Kelly (Escort)
29 Mark Alcorn – James McNulty (Escort)
30 Damian Toner – Denver Rafferty (Escort)
31 Chris Armstrong – TBA (Escort)
32 Gary McPhillips – Liam Brennan (Escort)
33 Jonathan Pringle – Paul Sheridan (Escort)
Photos by David Harrigan and Adam Hall
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