It is the one event every driver the length and breadth of Ireland wants to win – and this year the motivation is greater than ever as the Donegal Rally celebrates its golden anniversary.
A capacity 210 car entry has been secured by organisers of the three-day meeting which starts on Friday morning (11.50am) and is round five of the Irish Tarmac Championship and the half-way point of the FIA Celtic Rally Trophy.
Totalling nearly 200 competitive miles, the route comprises 20 special stages and includes all of the classics, from An Grianan and Carnhill to Knockalla, Fanad Head, High Glen and Atlantic Drive.
Top seed is Donegal Rally trophy holder Sam Moffett, with recent Rally of the Lakes victor Callum Devine running second on the road and current Irish Tarmac leader Josh Moffett third.
Alastair Fisher – the nephew of four-time Donegal winner Bertie – is the fourth seed in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 and making his debut at number five is reigning British Rally Champion Matt Edwards.
Cathan McCourt (Citroen C3 Rally2), Meirion Evans (Volkswagen Polo), Declan Boyle (Ford Fiesta WRC), Garry Jennings (Ford Fiesta R5) and Jonny Greer (Citroen C3 Rally2) complete the top 10.
The Modified entry is equally as compelling and choosing a winner from Ryan Loughran (Ford Escort Mk2), Kevin Eves (Toyota Corolla), James Stafford (Darrian T90 GTR), Declan Gallagher (Toyota Starlet) and David Bogie (Ford Escort Mk2) is anyone’s guess.
A strong points-scoring finish for Josh Moffett alongside team-mate Andy Hayes would see him put one hand on a title he clinched back in 2018.
“We’ve had a good start to the competition, with two perfect scores and two second place finishes and if we can manage a third win of the season in Donegal then that would definitely put us in a comfortable position with only the Ulster and Cork ‘20’ rallies remaining,” said the Hyundai i20 R5 driver.
“But everyone knows Donegal is a long rally, a tough rally, and over the course of three days there is the potential for anything to happen.
“The competition will be tight and as a driver that is what you want – a battle that runs right to the finish – so I am really looking forward to it,” he added.
2019 was the last time Ireland’s largest outdoor sporting event took place. On that occasion, it was cut short when Donegal Motor Club member and former winner Manus Kelly lost his life in a crash.
In memory of the 42-year-old father of five, the crew that finishes top of the timesheets will be presented with the Manus Kelly Memorial Award at the finish ramp in Letterkenny on Sunday afternoon.
“We finished on a low that year but we needed those two years to reset, to come back again – and we are back and confident of putting on another great event,” said long-standing Clerk of the Course, Eamon McGee. “The interest around Donegal is always strong – and that is the case once again this year.
“We have come up with what we think is going to be a stern test for this year’s event, so it is now up to all the competitors to make sure they are as well prepared for it as they can be,” he added.
To mark the rally’s half century, some of the previous winning drivers and co-drivers are set to take to the Glen and Atlantic Drive stages in an array of priceless machinery.
Cathal Curley will be at the wheel of a Ford Escort Mk1 and Ari Vatanen a BMW M3, while Billy Coleman will head out in a Porsche 911, Austin McHale a Toyota Celica and Andrew Nesbitt a Mitsubishi Lancer World Rally Car.
“To have these levels of support, it is a huge vote of confidence in the event we are running,” said the Chairman of Donegal Motor Club, Brian Brogan.
“We are oversubscribed once again this year and if the club could run two rallies on consecutive weekends to try and satisfy everyone then, of course, we would.
“Equally, to receive support like this, we are delighted for the founder members of 50 years ago. They put in a lot of work to get Donegal to an international level and it is up to us to keep it there,” he added.
Donegal Rally – Top 10 Seeds
1 Sam Moffett/Keith Moriarty (Ford Fiesta WRC)
2 Callum Devine/ Noel O’Sullivan (VW Polo GTI R5)
3 Josh Moffett/Andy Hayes (Hyundai i20 R5)
4 Alastair Fisher/Gordon Noble (VW Polo GTI R5)
5 Matt Edwards/David Moynihan (Citroen C3 Rally2)
6 Cathan McCourt/Liam Moynihan (Citroen C3 Rally2)
7 Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson (VW Polo GTI R5)
8 Declan Boyle/James O’Reilly (Ford Fiesta WRC)
9 Garry Jennings/Rory Kennedy (Ford Fiesta R5)
10 Jonny Greer/Dai Roberts (Citroen C3 Rally2)