Four-times Irish champion Eugene Donnelly and co-driver Paddy Toner claimed victory in this year’s Safety Direct Galway International Rally 2009.
The pair had been in third place at the start of day two, but with overnight leader Eamon Boland retiring his Subaru with mechanical problems, and Kevin Lynch suffering the same fate with his Subaru, Donnelly and Toner, driving their McGeehan Motorsport prepared Skoda Fabia, grabbed their opportunity.
Despite the difficult wet stages on the opening day, the current champion Eamonn Boland had led comfortably until his NVD-sponsored Subaru stopped between stages 10 and 11 with a blown engine.
Other contenders also retired. Conrad Rautenbach suffered engine problems in his Citroen Xsara WRC and failed to finish, while Aaron Burkhart also retired his Suzuki early. Both crews intend to compete on Rally Ireland which opens the 2009 World Rally Championship in two weeks’ time.
Thus it was Eugene Donnelly who took the honours, with Gareth MacHale and Brian Murphy in their Ford Focus World Rally finishing second, and Peadar Hurson and Damian Connolly in a Subaru Impreza World Rally Ca completing the two-day event in third place.
On the local scene, the battle for The Brian Thornton Memorial Trophy was between Mike Bird and Tom Flaherty. The two crews swopping seconds all day. The end of stage 15 saw Bird, who was co-driven by Kevin Keane, move up to seventh overall with a total of 1hr 58 min and 59 secs. The Galway battle changed slightly with a strong charge by David Quigley and Des Sherlock in a Honda Civic, but the pair could not hold out, finishing the day 11th overall and first in class 2, in 2hrs 4 mins and 3.4 secs
Tom Flaherty and Patrick Curley finished second overall in the national rally in 2 hrs 16mins and 3 secs. Mike Bird and Kevin Keane went on to win the Brian Thornton Trophy, finishing eighth overall in 2hrs 14 mins and 24 seconds.
Anthony O’Halloran and Sean Flanagan did battle for group N honours until the last stage. Flanagan, who was co-driven by Brian Duggan in an Impreza, went into the stage 3 seconds faster, but O’Halloran pulled out all the stops to record a time almost nine seconds faster to take the Group N victory.
Local Galway driver Ray Cunningham won the historic rally, with Richard Hyland in a Morris Mini Cooper S. Noel Conroy and Keith Sheppard also finished the historic rally in 1 hour 45 minutes and 15 seconds.
Craig Breen and Andrew Purcell recorded an impressive 10th overall finish in 2 hours 17 minutes and 25.8 seconds. Liam Higgins and Derrick Feeney were delighted to finish 15th overall in 2 hours 24 minutes and 4 seconds
Donnelly was delighted to be back on the podium in Galway, with his co driver Paddy Toner winning his first International rally.