Kelly & Flanagan take victory in Galway
Donagh Kelly & Kevin Flanagan in a Ford Focus WRC took their first ever international win when they had 39.2 seconds to spare over Eugene Donnelly & Paul Kielys Mini WRC in the Colm Quinn BMW Galway International Rally 2015. It was an extremely impressive and controlled performance from the Donegal / Derry combination on the first round of the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship. They led from Saturday evening when current tarmac champions Declan & Brian Boyle received a three minute road penalty having which dropped them down the order. Sam Moffett & Karl Atkinson in their Fiesta WRC came home third having been narrowly pipped by Donnelly on the final stage and only 0.7 seconds separated them at the end.
As is traditional in Galway, the beginning of the new season sees new driver and car combinations, and this year was no different with a colourful array of new machinery on display. Top seeds were the reigning champions Declan and Brian Boyle in their Subaru Impreza WRC, with Garry Jennings the 2013 champion with Rory Kennedy co-driving in a similar car at two. The first of the Colm Quinn BMW sponsored Mini WRCs in the hands of Eugene Donnelly and Paul Kiely were at three and hoping for better luck than last year when an accident put them out. Donagh Kelly & Kevin Flanagan had started 2014 well, but a couple of retirements during the season knocked the heart out of them. After a successful recent test in Donegal they were happy with the setup of their Focus WRC and were seeded at four. The first of the Combilift Fiesta WRCs was at five with Sam Moffett & Karl Atkinson hoping to push on from last years’ experience of the car. The second Colm Quinn BMW sponsored Mini WRC was at six in the hands of Dean Raftery and Mark Kane with the Billy Coleman award winner having his first taste of a WRC car.
The second Combilift Fiesta WRC as at seven in the hands of Josh Moffett who has graduated from Group N and the sibling competition with Sam was going to be interesting. John Rowan was co-driving the younger Moffett brother as usual. Declan Gallagher & Ryan Moore the 2014 Modified Champions were at eight and top seeded modified crew. Johnny Greer & Kirsty Riddick were out in a Citroen DS3 R5 and were expecting a steep learning curve. Steve Simpson & Patrick Walsh were forced to withdraw their Impreza WRC before the event as the co-driver suffered a family bereavement at home. James Belton & Keith Moriartys Fiesta S2000 had head gasket trouble and failed to start although they did run on 00 duties on the Sunday. Brendan Cumiskey & Ronan O’Kane in a Group N Subaru made up the top ten starters on the event.
Very cold, overcast but dry conditions greeted the 66 main field and 9 historic crews on the opening stage near Ardrahan, and the Boyle cousins continued where they left off last year with a fastest time, some 6.6 seconds quicker than Kelly. Most of the tops crews negotiated the stage without too much drama, except for Dean Raftery. His Mini lapsed into safe mode towards the end of the stage, and although he made service, a lot of road penalties were picked up. Garry Jennings had complained of starting slowly but was back on the pace by the third stage and up to third as the older generation WRCs had the edge on the fast stages. Donnelly & the two Moffetts made up the top six but all three were over 30 seconds behind.
Boyle hit trouble on stage four when his car failed to start and he ran several numbers down the order, and although he set the fastest time, the threat of road penalties were hanging over him. Kelly was still less than ten seconds behind with Jennings still in third, but by the following stage the Fermanagh drivers rally was over. A gravelly square right caught Jennings out, and the resultant puncture and steering problems mean that too much time was lost and he had to retire. After six stages Boyle led by just over ten seconds from Kelly, with Donnelly and the two Moffetts making up the top five, but road penalties for the late start to stage 4 dropped Boyle back to fifth place, three minutes off the lead.
With eight stages on the Sunday including the Black Road, Lough Cutra and Bradys Yard there was still a lot of rallying to be done. Kelly punched in a quick time over the icy and partly foggy Black Road to extend his lead while Sam Moffett and Donnelly were having a huge struggle for second place. Josh Moffett had 90 seconds to spare ahead of Boyle, Raftery was putting in some very impressive times in sixth while there was a great R5 battle between the Fiesta of Paraic Duffy and the DS3 of Jonny Greer. Brendan Cumiskey led Group N from Aaron McHale with Stephen Hernon in third, but brake problems put Pat Kearney out while a blown turbo dropped Peter O’Kane out of the running.
Over the final stages Kelly held his nerve to take his first ever international win after a very solid drive over the weekend. The battle for second place went down to the final stage as Sam Moffett and Donnelly swapped places continuously and the former tarmac champion pulled out all the stops over the last stage to take runner up by just 0.7 seconds. The battle for fourth was as intense with Boyle putting on a late charge in an effort to overtake Josh Moffett who had lost some time with a puncture. Moffett did enough to hang on by just three seconds and take fourth place while Dean Raftery had an excellent first outing in a WRC to come home sixth. Jonny Greer brought his Citroen home in seventh after Paraic Duffy lost over 9 minutes on stage 11 with an ‘off’. Aaron McHale, Brendan Cumiskey and Joe McGonigle rounded off the top ten.
Provisional Overall Points after Round 1
1st – Kelly 16
2nd – Donnelly 14
3rd – S. Moffett 12
4th – J. Moffett 10
5th – Boyle 8
The National rally was very much the Declan Gallagher show as expected with the Starlet driver totally dominating proceedings over the two days. The reigning Modified Champion never let his concentration drop as he won the category with almost two and a half minutes to spare over Mickey Conlons Escort. Liam Howlett had been second until he went off the road on Stage 10, while Pat Kelly was an early retirement with transmission troubles. Cal McCarthy was also a first stage retirement as the national challengers got whittled down early in the event. John Lynch, Stephen Greaney and Declan Wilmott completed the top five in the national rally all driving Mk 2 Escorts.
The Historic Rally was won with almost a minute to spare by father and son crew Ernie and Will Graham in their Escort on their first championship appearance of the year. Second place overall was enough to give Gareth Lloyd the lead in the championship in his Escort Mk 2 while Joe Connollys Mk 1 example was back in third place, over six and half minutes off the lead. The Junior Rally saw Corks Vincent McSweeney take the win in his Honda Civic by almost a minute from the similar car of Richard Moore. Conor McCarthy in yet another Civic was another minute back in third place. Notable retirements included Rob Duggan who led for most of the event only for a broken suspension arm to put him out, and Andy Mahon who retired after an accident on the Black Road.
The action now moves onto the second round in five weeks’ time, the Quality Hotel Clonakilty West Cork Rally which is the first time it has been a counting round of the championship. With so many drivers registering in Galway and most of them gaining some points it promises to be an exciting St. Patricks Weekend in Clonakilty. Another successful Colm Quinn BMW Galway International Rally has come to a close and congratulations must go to Kieran Donohue and his team for a very well organised event that ran on time all weekend.
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