Callum Devine and Noel O’Sullivan lead the 2022 Donegal International Rally after Friday’s six stages. The Rally of the Lakes winners hold a 5.8-second overnight advantage over Matt Edwards and David Moynihan.
An all-out attack on the opening Dooish Hill test was instrumental in the Volkswagen Polo R5 crew’s early grasp of Donegal’s top spot.
Early morning rain provided three slippery stages to start the three-day event. Devine was the one to stick his neck out, going fastest on the 15-kilometre test by an incredible 7.5 seconds.
Welshman Edwards hustled his Citroen C3 Rally2 to a second-fastest time to open his Donegal account in fine fashion. Edwards hasn’t competed in Rally2 machinery since winning the British Rally Championship on last November’s Ulster Rally.
He recorded two stage wins on Friday to decrease the gap to Devine ahead of Saturday’s mammoth day of action.
In fact, less than one second separated Devine and Edwards on two-thirds of Donegal’s Friday stages.
Circuit of Ireland winners, Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble, hold third overall but are someway off Donegal’s lead battle. Fisher was almost 16 seconds slower than Devine on Stage 1, reckoning his Polo R5’s set-up was too soft.
Despite constant tweaks to their car, Fisher lies 34.9 seconds behind his Irish Tarmac Rally Championship rival Devine. Fisher will be hoping Saturday’s change in rally terrain will give him a better feeling behind the wheel.
ITRC leaders Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes also find themselves adrift of Devine and Edwards’ early pace. Along with his brother Sam, the Hyundai i20 R5 pilot opted to make a safe choice of wet tyres heading onto Donegal’s opening loop of stages.
Unfortunately for the Monaghan brothers, it proved to be the wrong one as the rain stayed away and the roads began to dry.
Josh finished day one 38.9 seconds off the lead with third-placed Fisher in his sights. Sam is a further 22 seconds back in his Ford Fiesta WRC.
Wales’ Meirion Evans and Jonathan Jackson are sandwiched between the Moffetts in another Polo R5.
Eamonn Kelly and Cathan McCourt were some of the names on Friday’s retirement list. Kelly had been 12th after stage three but his top-line debut in Donegal came to an end when his Polo’s turbo blew.
McCourt was ninth after Donegal’s first three stages but lost time on the second pass of Dooish Hill with a puncture. Worse was to come on the next test when he clipped a wall on the inside of a right-hander, breaking his front-right suspension.
As expected, Donegal Rally’s modified race has been fast and furious. 5.3 seconds separate the top three two-wheel-drive crews at the end of day one.
Kevin Gallagher heads that pack in his Darrian T90 ahead of James Stafford in similar machinery.
Damien Tourish had led modifieds up to the fifth stage in his Ford Escort Mk2. Tourish and Domhnall McAlaney dropped down behind the Darrians over the final dry stages.
A number of modified crews need to get their times amended after stopping with Kevin Eves who got his Toyota Corolla stuck on Donegal’s opening stage. The Pettigo pilot was able to get going again but is six minutes behind his rivals.
Rob Duggan had a big accident in his Mk2 Escort on the second pass of Dooish Hill. The stage was red-flagged with the Killarney flyer unable to go any further.
Photos by D Harrigan Images and Roger Dawson