BY CHRIS MCNULTY
DEFENDING champion Gary Jennings holds a commanding 9.6 second lead after day one of the 2013 Donegal International Rally.
The Kesh native, who has Neil Doherty from Glen as his co-driver, leads the way from Darren Gass, who has shown flashes of his potential over the opening stages.
Jennings was quicker over Cark 1 and Letterleague 2 today and it is the Subaru S12b that heads the leaderboard.
Lettermacaward cousins Declan and Brian Boyle entered the event with high hopes of claiming a win.
The Subaru was fastest over the first of today’s special stages, Breenagh, and we seemed set for a high-octane battle that included a Donegal duo.
However, their rally lasted little over five minutes. Having been quickest on Breenagh with 4 minutes 26.7 seconds, the Subaru went off on the fifth corner at Cark on special stage 2 and their rally was over.
They managed to get back on the road, but the damage was too much. Coming off SS1, Declan had complained of fumes in the car and it appears as if a broken brake pipe was the source of his ills.
Gass set the fastest times on the first loop of Letterleague and the second run of Breenagh to see him end day one as Jennings’ closest challenger.
The defending champion, though, appears as if he’ll take some stopping.
“There was a lot of pressure this morning and I didn’t sleep much last night,” he admitted at the end of the day’s rallying.
“There was a lot of hype, but I got settled into my comfort zone after the first stage. I’m enjoying the car and enjoying the sport.
“It’s nice to be ahead by nearly ten seconds.”
Behind Gass is young Sam Moffett, who is in third after a fine day at the wheel of the Subaru.
“That’s the best bit of craic I’ve had in a long time,” said the Monaghan man at the end of SS6.
Derek McGarrity and Omagh’s Seamus Leonard complete the top five on the opening day.
Leonard had some clutch problems early in the day and stalled at the start of the second loop of Breenagh.
Frosses man Donagh Kelly stalled on the opening stage, but has come back to himself again. “The changes are all in our heads,” said his co-driver Kevin Flanagan in service.
The leading Donegal pairing is Kilmacrennan’s John O’Donnell and Letterkenny’s Aidan Friel. The step up from the Escort hasn’t held O’Donnell back – and he was in fine form at service. Despite a stall at the start of SS6 costing him time, he’s just 3.6 seconds behind Kelly.
“We would have been quite happy to be anywhere in the top ten at all,” O’Donnell said.
“We’re still learning the car and getting used to it.
“Conditions really suited us, especially since we are only getting used to the car. Aidan is doing a great job on the notes and keeping me settled.”
Darragh O’Riordan hasn’t been happy with the Fiesta all day and in service said he was ‘going to strip the car’. He’d mentioned the car being a ‘bit skippy’, that it had been ‘bouncing’ over the jumps.
Special Stage 5, the second run of Cark Mountain, was cancelled. This was because of a lack of ambulance cover after the ambulance had to take the crew in car 142 to hospital following an accident. This was merely a precautionary measure, though.
OMAGH’S Martin Doherty holds a commanding lead in the lively Group N battle; the Evo9 13.6 seconds in front of that of Stephen and Susanne Wright.
Josh Moffett is third in the Group N battle, which is set to intensify tomorrow, while Pat Kirk and Shane Maguire – who has said he was in an uphill battle with the Subaru not having the ‘grunt’ of the Evos – are next in line in a class that is always keenly contested.
GLENSWILLY’S Manus Kelly overcame problems with a snapped intercom cable to continue to snap at Gary McPhillips’ heels at the head of the National Rally.
Kelly and Donal Barrett are just 6.1 seconds in arrears of McPhillips who leads the way.
“I bedded in well and we had a couple of nice stages,” said Kelly, who knew the stage so well anyway.
“Gary is always a tough competitor, but we’re glad to be through Friday and get settled in.”
Rodney Wilton and Frank Kelly are next up, while Letterkenny’s Damian Gallagher completes the top five in the nationals.
Craig Breen, a professional driver from Waterford, is up to tackle Donegal in a Mk2 Escort. Despite being down in power, in a 2-litre, from the others, Breen is putting in strong times.
“The car is certainly not what I’d be used to, that’s for sure,” laughed Breen after being asked to compare the Escort with the works Peugeot.
One of the bizarre tales of the day was that of Phil Collins, whose Mk2 got hit by a swinging farm gate on the Breenagh loop, breaking a mirror, which then cranked off the side of the car for the remainder of the stage!
The cars, following service, are now back in Parce Ferme at LYIT and the crews will contest eight special stages tomorrow, two loops each of Garygort, Knockalla, Grovehall and Gartan.