BY CHRIS MCNULTY
AT THE end of day two, Meath’s Tim McNulty has a commanding lead heading into the final eight stages of the 2011 Topaz Donegal International Rally.
McNulty and Paul Kiely in the WRC Impreza lead the S2000 Fiesta of Alastair Fisher and Rory Kennedy by one minute, 14.2 seconds. McNulty was fasted on all bar three of today’s action-packed ten special stages.
McNulty was a man on a mission from as early as the first stage of the day at Grovehall, where he set a lighting-quick time of 6:52.9, just over eight seconds faster than Fisher in the dry conditions – which by the end of the day would turn to drenching around Knockalla.
“The rain made Knockalla very difficult, we were 30s slower than our first run over this afternoon. It would be easy to underestimate how tough a day it was. We were on a good pace and I’m looking forward to Sunday,” said race leader McNulty.
“Knockalla was like pure glass, but we’re out now in front and it’s great to be leading Donegal after the second day. We’ll need to hold our head because we’re going well.”
At the head of the leaderboard, it looks like being a head-to-head between McNulty and Fisher, while Daragh O’Riordan had been setting good times throughout the day until disaster struck on the second run around Knockalla, the Impreza getting wedged and seeing him fall a further 50 seconds behind Fisher. O’Riordan actually set the fastest time on the first run around Garrygort.
In fourth overnight is Kevin Barrett, while Philip Morrow holds a 51.1-second advantage over Garry Jennings heading into the Sunday stages.
Seamus Heron, Alan Ring, Denis Biggerstaff and Scott McElhinney – who is leading the way for the Citroen trophy – complete the top ten overnight.
Donegal man Donagh Kelly became the day’s first big casualty when on the Trentagh stage he went off, while Derek McGarrity followed on SS 12. The Glengormley man had spun on stage 9 and had gearbox issues on 10, before the Impreza eventually ground to a halt on SS12, ending the weekend for him, having come off the Friday stages in third place.
Alastair Fisher and Rory Kennedy had intercom problems on Stage 9 when Alastair couldn’t hear Rory on the notes, but the duo have pushed the S2000 Fiesta to the limit, the driver noting: “I can do no more. At mid point in Knockalla I was 1s up and by the finish I was 10s down. I was flat out”. Perhaps the tight terrains of Inishowen might allow Fisher pick off a few seconds early tomorrow.
Daniel McKenna had a day of spins in the MkII Escort, but it is the Monaghan man who leads the charge in a frantic National Rally, which has battles all through the field. McKenna leads the Darrian of John Dalton by a minute 14.2 seconds – the same lead as is held by McNulty in the National event.
McKenna was given a 30-second penalty coming out of the last service yesterday, but still holds a commanding lead. Brian Meade had been traveling well before he crashed off just after a bumpy straight on stage 9.
The Darrian of John Dalton from Wales is in second place in the National rally with Letterkenny’s own Brian Brogan and Damien McGettigan in third. Rodney Wilton sits in fourth, with Adrian Hetherington, Conor Harvey, Martin McGee, Eugene Ferry, Frank Kelly and Geoffrey Dolan ensuring that there is plenty of Donegal representation inside the top ten of the national event.
Indeed between Hetherington in fifth and Ferry in eighth, there is just 9.1 seconds of a difference with a fascinating battle in store here.
The MkII Escorts of Glenswilly’s Manus Kelly and Damien Gallagher had both been setting good times before they came a cropper on Stage 12, the Termon-Milford loop. Manus had managed to keep the Escort going after hitting a wall and damaging the rear on stage 7, but he broke the half shaft on the back axle and exited three stages later, with a similar complaint ending Damien Gallagher’s hopes.
Donegal has plenty of representation at the top of various leaderboards in the classes, too, heading into the final day.
Tomorrow, the action shifts to the Inishowen peninsula for stages at Coolcross, Culdaff and Malin – all done twice – before two quickfire loops around Buncrana town draws the action to a close. Conditions will again play a big part as the finish ramp draws ever closer.
See here for full list of standings at the end of day two.
MONDAY’S DONEGAL NEWS WILL HAVE COMPREHENSIVE COVERAGE ON THE WEEKEND’S HAPPENINGS