BY CHRIS MCNULTY
Top seed Tim McNulty holds the overnight lead after the first day of action at the 2011 Topaz Donegal International Rally, the Co. Meath man having a 28.6-second advantage over Alastair Fisher and Letterkenny’s Rory Kennedy in the S2000 Fiesta.
McNulty was fastest on the two loops around Fanad Head and on the second run around the famed Atlantic Drive stage this afternoon, while Fisher set the quickest times on both runs of Glen and the first of the Atlantic Drive circuits.
Fisher had actually led the rally after stage 3, but lost the lead to the Co.Meath man when he set a blistering 10 minutes 6.9 seconds on the second loop of Fanad and it’s advantage McNulty after day one of three.
“It’s a big thing to be leading Donegal,” he said.
“The second loop went very well for us. We gambled on the tyre choice and we got it right.
“It’s the first time I’ve led on the end of the first day.”
Alastair Fisher feels that tomorrow morning’s stages might suit the S2000 Fiesta, which is going well for himself and Rory Kennedy.
Tyre choice was key today and McNulty got it on the money for the second half of the Friday action – but he has had enough experience of Donegal’s terrain not to get carried away.
He said: “We have to keep our head. Derek and Alastair are still there. We had to back off for a while this morning and they backed us in.”
Derek McGarrity is in third position after recovering from a bad start in Fanad when the wrong tyre choice marred the first stage of the day.
Donegal man Donagh Kelly leads the charge in Group N after a fine day in the Airtricity Evo9.
“Obviously I’m delighted with the position,” said Kelly.
“The big factor tomorrow will be the weather and I wouldn’t be surprised if the morning claimed a few people. Others have a big charge here so we can’t take the feet off.”
Second in Group N is Alan Ring, while Philip Morrow overcame an early problem to climb back into third in Group N, 9th overall, but Sam Moffett stopped on the Glen stage and Seamus Leonard had crews and timekeepers racing for the fire extinguishers as he came off Atlantic Drive, the Lancer smoking badly and the Omagh man’s event cut short.
The National Rally is being led by Daniel McKenna, who has a whopping 53.2-second lead on Letterkenny man Damien Gallagher, though the local man is enjoying a great rally so far.
The back axle of McKenna’s Escort had to be cut and re-welded in service. but the Monaghan man was on top form.
McKenna got off to such a blistering start that his time on SS1 at Fanad was the second fastest overall.
“The car is handling 100 per cent,” McKenna said at the close of day one.
“We have a bit of breathing space now that Bogie, Boyle and few of them are gone.”
David Bogie’s Metro 6R4 bowed out due to a burst oil pipe and Glenties’ Declan Boyle was pulled up on SS1. Phil Collins, meanwhile, exited the 2011 Donegal Rally after rolling the Escort on the Glen stage.
Letterkenny woman Toni Kelly had trouble between SS2 and SS3, but is hopeful of getting the Civic back on the road for the Saturday stages.
Donegal men Manus Kelly, Eugene Ferry, Brian Brogan, Paul Harris and Martin McGee are all in the top ten of the National event.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
1983 winners Vincent Bonner and Seamus McGettigan are travelling well in their Escort, the local duo who remain the only all-Donegal crew to have won the event, and are up to 29th in the National event. The pair have been coaxed into doing the 2011 chapter as a special inclusion to commemorate the 40th year of the Donegal Rally.
SPECIAL Stage 6 was halted after a crash, with remaining competitors given a scratch time for the stage. Driver and navigator were sore, but uninjured.
Click here for full list of latest times for the event.
Tomorrow, ten special stages are on offer for rally fans in Donegal. The action gets underway at Grovehall, with stages at Trantagh, Termon, Garrygort and Knockalla all done twice.