After three days and twenty stages, they finished with a winning margin of a minute and 7.1 seconds over the Ford Fiesta WRC debutants, cousins Declan and Brian Boyle. One-time leaders Donagh Kelly/Kevin Flanagan (Ford Focus WRC) were a similar margin further behind in third.
With a margin of 3.2 seconds separating Jennings and Kelly, hopes of a frenetic battle pulsed the expectations of the thousands of spectators that lined the stages on Saturday morning.
Jennings signalled his intentions for a charge and his stage time replicated his intent. However, only a few kilometres into the stage, Kelly overshot a junction and clipped the rear of his Ford Focus and fell 18.8 seconds behind. Worse was to follow on the repeat of Garrygort where his Focus sustained a puncture and lost almost a minute and dropped to third. Meanwhile, Jennings, with three fastest stage times, had increased his lead over Boyle with Kelly remaining in third. By the completion of the morning’s four stages Jennings admitted to slackening his pace over the repeat of Knockalla where earlier glorious sunshine was replaced with rain that prompted the rally leader to opt for caution.
At the Milford service, the Fermanagh man was 49.8 seconds ahead of Boyle while Kelly, with the fastest stage time, was 30.3 seconds further behind.
Elsewhere, Derek McGarrity (Subaru) continued to hold fourth followed by the Ford Fiesta of Daragh O’Riordan (Ford Fiesta WRC). Seamus Leonard dropped a place due to a puncture on S.S. 7, the Omagh man also had trouble with the transmission and a new gearbox was fitted at service.
On the four stages in the afternoon Jennings kept his concentration and led at the overnight halt by 48 seconds. The day’s final stage saw Boyle punch in his first fastest time on board the Fiesta. Kelly, with a pair of fastest stage times was 37.5 seconds behind Boyle. McGarrity occupied fourth as fifth placed O’Riordan was coming under pressure from Leonard, who had closed to within 10.5 seconds.
Manus Kelly in an Escort led the National section – earlier in the day Gary McPhillips was an opening stage casualty when he crashed his Escort.
Yesterday, Jennings was in no mood for sentiment and didn’t offer his rivals a scent of hope.
Even with a hard compound slick in the wet conditions, he powered his way through Glin and also kicked in with fastest times on Atlantic Drive and Fanad Head to lead Boyle by a minute and 10.7 seconds, the latter was content with his performance while Kelly spun on Stage 17 and fell further behind.
Meanwhile, Leonard leap-frogged O’Riordan and was only 1.8 seconds off fourth-placed McGarrity.
That margin was cut to four tenths of a second by the end of Glin. However, it came as no surprise when McGarrity pushed the margin out to 7.4 seconds by setting the best time on Atlantic Drive and he put the issue beyond doubt with another fastest stage time on S.S. 20. O’Riordan was sixth and Class 5 winner Joseph McGonigle (Skoda Fabia S2000) was seventh.