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Donegal Rally Day One: Jennings leads the way, but things go sour for ‘Milkman’

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BY CHRIS MCNULTY

AT the launch of the 2015 Joule Donegal International Rally, Rory Kennedy offered the opinion that ‘you can’t win the rally on the Friday, but you can lose it’.

At the close of business on day one, though, the Letterkenny navigator, who’s alongside Garry Jennings in the Subaru, is at the head of the leaderboard.

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2012 winner Jennings, with Kennedy calling the notes, takes an overnight lead of 3.2 seconds into day two.

Jennings heads the way from the Championship leader, Donagh Kelly, with the defending Donegal victor, Declan Boyle, back in third, with around 20 seconds to make up in the M-Sport Fiesta.

A problem with the clock at the flying finish on special stage 5, Letterleague, meant that confusion surrounded the actual times but, unofficially, Jennings is just over three seconds in front of Frosses man Kelly.

Jennings and Kelly were fastest over three stages each on day 1, with Jennings setting the pace on both runs around Trentagh and the second time over Corradooey, the day’s final stage.

Jennings changed tyres at service, opting for those of ‘a wee bit softer’ variety – and the Kesh man, who has tried in vain to regain the title he won three years ago, excelled over the slippery tarmac.

“Unreal slippy” was how Jennings reported the conditions. Despite not having much action in the Subaru, Jennings has wasted no time in bedding back in, noting at the day’s service at the Clanree Hotel that he was ‘on the door handles’.

Ending the day in front, Jennings appeared to have a bit between his teeth again.

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“I’m very glad that we’re on the pace,” he said.

“I knew that Donagh and Declan would be on pace. We’re pushing very hard. We had the wrong tyre choice this morning, but we’re happy with how we’ve gone. You wouldn’t believe the rain on the last stage – the wipers could hardly cope.”

Kelly is the Championship leader coming into this weekend on his home turf. He and Kevin Flanagan have had a steady opening day and are well poised heading for Saturday’s eight stages.

Kelly was ‘a bit sideways through the trees’ on the opening loop of Corradooey, SS3, having said that he hadn’t pushed the Subaru on the first stage of the day.

Kelly said: “It’s a great battle – it’s great to be back at it and we’re having a big battle.”

Boyle only took receipt of the Fiesta midweek and reported the car ‘low on power’ compared to his testing.

Boyle stalled at the start of stage five and ‘backed off’ on the wet conditions.

“We took no chances,” the Lettermacaward man said. “We still have a lot of learning to do.”

Seamus Leonard, in the Subaru for the first time, sits in fourth, having had a big moment on the fourth stage, clipping the rear of the car at a hairpin.

Derek McGarrity has lifted the pace and is in fifth, ahead of Daragh O’Riordan, who complained that the Fiesta had been ‘too low’ over the afternoon’s opening loop.

Muff man Joseph McGonigle is going well in the S2000 Fabia despite having problems on stage 3 when the door wouldn’t close. McGonigle sits in the top ten in the international and another Inishowen driver, Burt’s PJ McDermott recovered from clipping a banking on stage one to finish the day just outside the top ten.

Tommy Doyle left the action on the fifth stage having sat in seventh at the time of his departure.

GROUP N

IT’S a Strabane one-two in Group N with Aidan Wray leading the way from Donegal Rally veteran Pat Kirk by just 2.3 seconds with Dara Leonard in third.

Wray is in the new Evo 10 and can be pleased with his opening day.

Ballybofey’s Martin Doherty is back in fourth in Group N with Donegal town’s Trevor Bustard around 20 seconds adrift of Doherty, while Aaron McHale and Paul McGee have some ground to make up in the Evo 9.

NATIONAL RALLY

THINGS turned sour, again, for ‘The Milkman’ on day one of the Donegal Rally.

Declan Gallagher, the national rally championship leader, came into his home event hopeful, confident even, of making this his year.

Things were going to plan when, after five of the day’s six stages, the Starlet led the way from Gary McPhillips by 21 seconds.

Disaster struck, though, on the second loop of Corradooey. As he took a five right a little too over-zealously, the Starlet ended in the hedge and it appears as if his rally is over. Certainly, his hopes of taking the national title this weekend are gone.

Gallagher had set some blistering times. He was quickest on the opening two stages and was joint fastest with McPhillips over the third.

McPhillips has taken over the lead and Gallagher’s exit means that the Monaghan man renews his battle with the Donegal duo of Manus Kelly and Donall Barrett. Kelly is just 6.4 seconds back with Donegal Motor Club Chairman Brian Brogan, who has Damien McGettigan on board, only 4.5 off Kelly.

“We’re happy with how we’re going,” Kelly said.

“I’m glad we’ve settled in so quickly. We’re sitting second. It’s going good so far.”

Kelly had to bleed the breaks of the Escort at the start of the second run over Trentagh, but he still set the fastest time on the stage.

Brian Brogan lost time at Gallagher’s crash having had ‘a big one on the second corner’ on SS4.

Lisburn’s Wesley Patterson, who had Letterkenny native Johnny Baird on the notes, but they’re gone because of a faulty fuel rail.

Adrian Hetherington from Tyrone is in fourth in the national standings with former Scottish champion David Bogie in fifth and looking like he’s ready for a big push on Saturday having taken time to settle in to the just-built Escort.

Michael Dunlop, the motorcycle legend, got away from the end of Trentagh but a plug popping out of the top of the engine meant he’s way back in the standings with no chance of an impact.

 

 

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