BY CHRIS MCNULTY
IT ALL seemed so simple, too.
Garry Jennings was the commanding leader of the Donegal International Rally on Saturday evening.
After Darren Gass went off the road on the penultimate stage on Saturday, the rally was Jennings’ to lose – that he did when he was slapped with an overnight three-minute penalty as a result of being early out of service.
Sam Moffett could hardly believe it. As the young Monaghan man rubbed the sleep from his eyes yesterday morning, he was heading into the final six stages as the race leader, with a 48.1 second lead to Derek McGarrity.
McGarrity set quickest times on Fanad Head and Atlantic Drive, after Seamus Leonard had been sharpest on Glen, but McGarrity was gutted when his engine blew up with the finish in sight.
The drama of the crippling penalty left Moffett and James O’Reilly in control – and they took the McKinstry Subaru Impreza first across the ramp yesterday evening.
“It’s indescribable,” beamed Moffett, who admitted his nerves had shot on the way to Glen.
“I thought I had five flat wheels on that last stage I was so nervous!
“Everything was going through my head.”
However, it is his name that is now the next to be etched upon that famous roster.
He said: “It’s just fantastic. So many people have won this rally and to be a part of that is just great.
“We’re glad to be here. To get the win is just so special.”
Remarkably, this was only Moffett’s second time in a WRC car.
He said: “I can’t believe how we came onto the car so quickly and I’m just so happy to be here.”
McGarrity had gearbox trouble and had threatened a withdrawal at one stage on Saturday, but he got back on the road and was second yesterday almost right to the finish.
“The gear box is driving me nuts, but the car is fantastic,” he said after one stage yesterday.
Donagh Kelly from Frosses was the lead Donegal driver as he finished in second place, a fantastic finish for the local man.
“I can’t believe it because we had so many dramas all weekend,” he said.
“To be second is absolutely brilliant. Maybe we can go one better next year.”
Jennings managed to finish third, with Seamus Leonard fourth and Darragh O’Riordan fifth.
Donagh Kelly’s navigator, Kevin Flanagan, lives in Burt, but he is a Derry native, meaning that the first all-Donegal crew home was the Subaru of John O’Donnell and Aidan Friel.
The Kilmacrennan-Letterkenny pair had a fantastic event, but on Fanad yesterday the throttled jammed and they spent a brief bit of time in a hedge.
However, they got through to take a brilliant sixth place overall finish.
“We just drove through Atlantic Drive and Fanad to get the car home in one piece,” he said.
“My luck was in and somebody was watching over me. I’m delighted to get her home and dry.”
GROUP N – THE ‘WRIGHT’ STUFF
STEPHEN Wright and Suzanne Wright steered their Evo9 into the victor’s spot in Group N.
Martin Doherty had been having a right tussle with the Monaghan duo before the engine gave up.
“It was a great weekend all around,” Stephen Wright said.
“We had a great battle with Martin before his engine trouble. We just cruised around.
“Winning Group N in Donegal is something special and my dad won it 27 years ago.
“We’ll find a good place for the crystal.”
With Doherty having to withdraw, Seamus Heron moved up to second with Shane Maguire third.
NATIONAL RALLY – HEARTBREAK FOR ‘MANDY’
THERE was heartache for Manus Kelly on the final stage of the day yesterday.
Heading into Fanad Head, Mandy was just 1.7 seconds behind Gary McPhillips at the head of the National leaderboard, having swapped fastest times and the lead with him all day.
Ever since Kelly took eleven seconds off him in Grovehall on Saturday, they were neck-and-neck.
Glenswilly man Kelly gave it his all. There were a few issues with the Escort, but his service crew did magnificently well to repair it, taking out the clutch and gearbox, changing the flywheel and getting the car out of service inside the 30 minutes.
On SS20, Fanad Head, Kelly and Donal Barrett were on the door handles when the Escort went into a ditch, leaving McPhillips as the winner.
“It was such a good weekend and it was tit-for-tat the whole way with Manus,” said McPhillips.
“The two of us were flat out on the last stage and there was nothing between us. It was all or nothing, win it or bin it.
“There was everything and I’m delighted to be here.”
McPhillips, despite a cracked manifold, won in the same car in which Declan Boyle had triumphed last year.
Frank Kelly finished in second spot, but there was a Glenswilly presence on the ramp as Damien Gallagher and Mac Walsh took third.
It was Gallagher’s first rally in two years. He said: “I can’t get over it. I’m delighted to get third. That’s the toughest conditions I’ve ever done this event in.
“The pace was unbelievable.”
Meanwhile, Craig Breen’s Mk2 wouldn’t fire up in service and he departed.