DECLAN Boyle rallied the S12B Subaru World Rally Car for the first time in August 2012, but in his first full season of action the Lettermacaward man won the Dunlop National Rally Championship in 2013.
Boyle, who has his cousin Brian acting as his co-driver, won the Mor Oil Galway Summer Rally in their first outing in the car – but came in under the radar to sweep the boards in 2013.
They wrapped up their Championship by winning the Sepam Tipperary Stonethrowers Rally, round six of the eight round series. In all, the Boyles took victory in five rounds of the event and clinched the Var Memorial Trophy.
Declan became only the third Donegal driver to win the National series with Paul Harris (2000) and Vincent Bonner (1987) the only previous victors from a county that is steeped in rallying heritage. Brian Boyle is only the third Donegal navigator to win, with Rory Kennedy having called the notes for Bonner twenty-five years ago and Donegal town’s Eugene O’Donnell riding shotgun with Harris.
“It’s hard to win it. Any Championship is, no matter how big or small. To be up with Vincent and Paul was great,” Declan says.
“We set out at the beginning of the year and just took it one rally at a time. We never even thought about winning the Championship.
“These Championships are so hard to win – even if you were in it on your own you mightn’t bloody well win it! We had a great year. It clicked from the off.”
The Boyles made the transition from a Mk2 Escort to a WRC rather seamlessly.
“We didn’t think that we’d blend as quick or be on the pace as quick in the WRC, coming from the Escort,” Declan says.
“Within three or four rallies we were on it. Every day we’re out in it we’re learning. It’s been two months since we were out in it, so we’ll have to get out and do some testing again before the Galway Rally in early 2014.
“It can become dangerous when you’re not at 100 per cent. Racing against Niall Maguire and James Belton, these boys, especially Niall, have a lot of experience and are always there at the end. We can be a bit wild at times so we have to try and tame ourselves. Being out on a stage and getting that into your head can be a difficult ask.”
This year, the Boyles won five rounds of the National Championship to top the pile.
“Some of them were tricky enough,” Boyle says.
“I couldn’t set one apart from the other. We had some really warm days out or when it was slippy and pure wet. Going into the last one in Tipperary we had a nice run through it but we had to be careful and make sure that we finished it to get it wrapped up. We could have lost it as handy.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Boyles, though.
They suffered heartbreak on the second stage of the 2013 Donegal International Rally. They had been bidding to become only the second ever all-Donegal crew to win the event in its 42-year history. However, on special stage 2, Cark Mountain, their rally ground to a halt.
They also left the Donegal Harvest Rally early in the morning.
Boyle denies that pressure was a problem for them.
“We were hotly tipped to win Donegal and you’d definitely be better off not being the favourite,” he says.
“No, the pressure didn’t get to us, but a few things went wrong on the morning. When you test a car you’re better off leaving it alone. We tried to make ours better for Donegal and it didn’t happen. We had a small lead after the first stage and it was early days. It isn’t all about those first few stages.
“The one-day stuff suited us. Any problems we had were all mechanical. We went to Galway and came third overall against Eugene Donnelly and Keith Cronin. We were matching their times and it was only our third day out in the car.
“We went to Killarney and we broke an input shaft in the gearbox.
“We went out on the first day in the Donegal International, we had problems with the brakes which meant we had to pull out and then a turbo pipe came off in the Ulster Rally. All of those small things early in the tarmac events happened us but it was all a learning curve because we’re only new to the WRC, so it’s new to us and new to our team as well.
“It just shows you how hard and difficult it can be. Down in Cork, we had a 45-second lead when we burst the suspension.
“We were on the ball and weren’t far away – but being there at the end is what it’s all about.”
Their car is an ex-Tim McNulty Subaru that won the Donegal International Rally in 2011.
“It should have the edge on most cars,” Boyle says.
“It’s nice to have competition – the more the better so hopefully there’ll be some new men in for us in 2014.
“It’s a great car. We’ll just make sure to double and treble those wee things and make sure we have no mechanical trouble next year.”
Donegal had good national success in 2013 with ‘The Flying Milkman’ Declan Gallagher from Ardara taking victory in the Modified section in the Toyota Starlet co-driven by Ryan Moore.
“He has bags of talent and has a good man sitting on with him,” Boyle says.
“He has a great car with plenty of power. Against Frank Kelly, Wesley Patterson and these boys, they are really on their game and you have to be on top of your game to compete with them.”
With the new season coming fast, Boyle will enter the National and International events once more before re-assessing his options in June, around about the time of the Donegal Rally.
He says: “We’ll do the national and the tarmac again. We have men on board with sponsorship again, hopefully. It depends on how good we’re doing after that.”
His leaving the action early in the Donegal events this year did offer him one cloud: He got the chance to get out on the stages and watch and old flame in action.
That Mk2 Escort in which he and Brian had so many big days out is still going strong. Indeed, under the direction of Gary McPhillips, Boyle’s old car took victory in both.
“What a car,” Boyle says.
“I went out to watch it on the Saturday in Donegal…the buzz as it was passing, the power! I miss the Escort, but there’s a great buzz in the WRC too. It’s a different sort of a buzz, though.”
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