Donegal man Donagh Kelly and navigator Kevin Flanagan took their first international rally win in this year’s Colm Quinn BMW Galway International Rally at the weekend.
Kelly crossed the finish line in his Ford Focus WRC, previously owned by well-known local rally driver, the late JJ Fleming.
“ I can’t believe it. We have been trying to win an international rally for a long time,” said Kelly. “We have come close on a number of occasions, but to win, and in Galway, is just amazing.
“The rally win to me is even more poignant as I have won the Galway International Rally in a car that was once owned by the late JJ Fleming of Galway.”
In uusually dry weather, but with early morning ice and fog which made the route challenging for the drivers, Kelly and Flanagan headed off the challenge of favourite Eugene Donnelly. Donnelly put in a late charge to finish second in his Colm Quinn-backed Mini WRC, edging out Monaghan man Sam Moffett by a mere .7 of a second after 175 competitive kilometres.
Fastest out of the blocks in Saturday’s opening stage in Skehanagh was last year’s event winner, Declan Boyle in his Subaru WRC. Setting a stunning time to pull out a six- second advantage over Donagh Kelly, he extended this lead over stage two and three. However it all went wrong on stage four for the Donegal man when the Subaru’s engine refused to start and he incurred a three-minute time penalty, dropping him from first overall to 10th, just behind Dean Raftery from Craughwell.
As a result Kelly inherited a slender lead over Gary Jennings, whose challenge ended when his Subaru had an altercation with a Galway dry stone wall on the next stage.
This promoted the Colm Quinn Mini of Eugene Donnelly into second and the order did not change during the final stage of the day with Kelly holding a 38 second lead over Donnelly overnight.
Kelly took control of this year’s rally over the infamous Black Road stage before stage 8 was cancelled on safety grounds due to fog. By the midday service Donagh had extended his lead to 47 seconds, while Donnelly and Moffett fought out the second spot, with last year’s winner going into the final loop of stages with a one second lead.
While Moffett grabbed a three second lead on the penultimate stage, Donnelly put everything into the final stage to claim second by just .7 of a second.
Local driver Dean Raftery fought his way back to a fine sixth for his first time in a World Rally Car, while Stephen Greaney and Kieran Feeney won the Brian G Thornton Memorial Trophy for the highest place Galway Motor Club crew. They also finished a fine fourth overall in the national rally at the wheel of their immaculate Ford Escort Mark 2.
The historic category was won by English competitors Ernie and Will Graham, who led from the first stage to the finish.
In the junior category Vincent McSweeney and Michael Kearney in a Honda Civic won by a minute over Richard Moore and Brian Halligan in second, Conor McCarthy and Dylan Coffey in third.
The German team of Kai Deiter Kolle and Bianca Hutzfeldt in a Porsche won the “Spirit of the Rally Award”, having travelled overland from north Germany to Galway to compete.