Donegal Rally Ends Tragically
Everything started so well for our BMMC/BRMC Timing Team on the Joule Donegal International Rally on Friday 21st June. We were assigned to the finish of Dooish SS 3/6 near the village of Manorcunningham. Ross would cover flying finish while Victor and I were on the stop control. Despite a not-so-friendly local farmer (more about him later) things ran smoothly for the first run, until an accident caused a stage stoppage after just 60 competitors had left our location. A total of 160 cars started the rally.
Just before stage six was due to start, we were instructed to move two miles into the test as due to threats from the aforementioned farmer the stage would be shortened. This time the now five-six mile test ran without a hitch and all 151 runners remaining in the event came through. Leading the rally after day one were Declan and Brian Boyle but they were less than a second ahead of Craig Breen and Paul Nagle. Third were Sam Moffett and James Fulton. All three Fiesta WRC crews were in front of stage one winners Callum Devine and Brian Hoy who led the R5 class in their fourth placed Fiesta.
Day two Saturday we had the morning off. Our stage was the 8 mile SS12&14 Carnhill test which started near Ramelton. This was the longest day of the rally with four morning stages and four in the afternoon. Ours was the last of the PM loop. The first stage of the day at Gartan was cancelled on safety grounds. It was estimated that around 70,000 spectators attended the popular event this year, well up on numbers in recent years. It may have been the presence of You Tube sensation Ken Block who was taking part in the National section that caused such a hike in young people following the rally, who knows. Block retired on day one following an off but ran again on Saturday under rally2 rules.
Despite a delay of around 40 minutes the first Carnhill stage ran without any major problems. Boyle had crashed out earlier so Sam Moffett was leading from Breen. Callum Devine was still leading the R5 class with Josh Moffett second driving a Hyundai i20 for the first time. Manus Kelly was third in his i20. The historic rally followed the main field with 19 cars starting.
Second time round Carnhill became SS14 and the last of the day. By the time all the remaining 126 main field and 17 historic runners had finished the stage and we were stood down it was 8.30pm. Missing this time round was motorbike ace Michael Dunlop. The multiple TT winner had been as high as 26th out of 116 in the National Rally after Friday. I had spoken to him as he finished SS12. He had lost time, but did say he much preferred to be in the Mk.2 Ford Escort than a superbike on the bumpy Donegal stages. Then trying to make up some places, Michael crashed out heavily on the following classic Knockalla test. The one time pristine Den Motorsport prepared Mk.2 was badly damaged and Dunlop injured but he will recover.
After stage 14 for us it was back to the nearby Mulroy Woods Hotel in Milford for dinner, courtesy of Donegal Motor Club, and then onward to our usual fantastic B&B at Mount Royd Country Home in Carrigans. Letterkenny was buzzing that Saturday evening with around 1,000 cars parked up while the young occupants watched “DIFFING” in a local arena behind the Silver Tassie Hotel.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny, in fact the weather had been good all weekend. After breakfast off we headed to our finish controls at Fanad Head. We had been covering Flying Finish and Stop on this 9 mile classic for the previous three years so we knew what to expect. The first run of Fanad was the first stage of a Sunday loop of three, Atlantic Drive and Port Lake being the others.
SS 15 started almost on time at 12.15 but only 10 cars came through the finish. The radio car alerted us to an incident which required all services to be sent in so the stage was halted. Eventually it transpired that car number one, running sixth on the road, had crashed near post nine mid way through the stage. The following cars hadn’t seen the car because it wasn’t visible from the road. The call then came over the radio that the rest of the cars waiting at the stage start would be sent by alternative road book to the next stage. Then another radio call asked us to send the remaining 12 cars (when they arrived after having been stopped at the incident), back to service and not to the next stage at Atlantic Drive. Twenty three cars had started so we got twenty two out. Alarm bells were starting to ring, we all knew something was badly wrong!
Then came the news that everyone had dreaded. 41-year-old Manus Kelly was killed when he lost control of his Hyundai i20 R5 on a fast and bumpy section of the Fanad Head stage. The car went on to cash through a hedge and into a field. Co-driver Donall Barrett, who’s injures included a broken collarbone and bruising, was taken to hospital but was expected to make a full recovery.
Kelly from Glenswilly near Letterkenny and Barrett from Milford Co.Donegal won the last three Donegal Internationals in the same car, a Subaru S12B WRC. In 2015 they won the National section of the rally in a Mk.2 Escort. Manus loved the Fanad stage and it always paid a crucial part in those victories. To say the rallying community has been shocked by his passing would be a huge understatement. A staunch member of Donegal Motor Club, Manus or “Mandy” as he was affectionately known, had just become a local Fianna Fail councillor and was a successful businessman. His funeral the following Thursday was massive and Donall Barrett was able to attend. Manus Kelly is survived by his wife Berni and their five children. All our thoughts and prayers go to the Kelly family circle and close friends at this sad time.
The remaining five stages of the 2019 Donegal International Rally were cancelled. Sam Moffett and James Fulton were declared winners, Craig Breen and Paul Nagle second and Callum Devine third. Garry Jennings and Rory Kennedy finished fourth in their Subaru Impreza S12B WRC.
Ryan Loughran/Gareth Doherty won the National Rally from Damien Tourish/Domnall McAlaney. Both were in Mk.2 Escorts while the Toyota Starlet of Declan Gallagher/Derek Heena was third. None of this seemed to matter given the circumstances.
For our part we were stood down around 2pm and eventually headed homeward after negotiating a two-hour traffic jam in Letterkenny. My thanks to Victor, Ross and Anna for their company over what transpired to be a very traumatic and sad weekend. Donegal Motor Club handled everything very professionally and a full inquiry into the fatal crash will be carried out by themselves, the police and Motorsport Ireland.
Sat. 6th July
Loughgall Country Park Rally
We are providing radio cover and stage marshals for this annual North Armagh Motor Club event. Sponsored yet again by Rainbow Communications. Sign on is by 8am. Expect over 50 cars on the six stage entry list. Favourite must by winner for the past four years Damian Toner in his potent Mk.2 Escort. Among the entries is a previous winner Wesley Patterson also in a Mk.2.
Sat. 20th July
Carryduff Forklift Down Rally
Round four of the 2019 Motorsport UK Northern Ireland Rally Championship and also a round of the Protyre Asphalt Rally Championship plus the new FUCHS Lubricants Classic Mini Challenge. The closed road event uses the classic Hamiltons Folly stage plus other Co. Down tests. Based at the Eikon Exhibition Centre at Balmoral Park near Lisburn which includes a service park and spectator power stage. We are providing a rescue crew and radio cover plus marshals. The rally is organised by Ballynahinch and District Motor Club.
Sat. 27th July
Benone Targa Rally
Organised by Cookstown Motor Club this is the second of three Targa Rallies the Club are due to run this year. We are providing timekeepers for this one. Scheduled to start from Benone Tourist Complex near Limavady, Co. Derry at 10am.