The desire to become the first person to win a straight hat-trick in the Clonakilty event (that has international status this year) is the primary reason Donagh Kelly has decided to participate.
From a double championship winning season, the Donegal native and KN Group CEO has opted for a limited programme this year in order to concentrate on expansion plans for the company.
This year’s West Cork will be a different ball game for Kelly as opposition includes Fermanagh’s Garry Jennings, making his first competitive appearance in Clonakilty. It is also a battle between the Ford Focus WRC and the Subaru WRC. Kelly has made the Focus a very strong package on Irish terrain while Jennings’ S12B Subaru is one of the finest examples of the traditional WRCs.
Both arrive in Clonakilty with good form — Kelly’s preparation came via a comfortable win in Abbeyleix last month while Jennings has won in Galway and last week in Mayo. Their paths haven’t crossed since the Ulster Rally where Kelly claimed victory and the Tarmac title but Jennings saw his victory aspirations go up in smoke when his car caught fire.
Without the shackles of championship points it will be a case of attack from the start. As a contest it should be absorbing and while Kelly has accrued good knowledge of the terrain after two fine wins, Jennings will relish the challenge. Declan Boyle had intended to be part of the Clonakilty contest but has withdrawn as his Ford Fiesta WRC was damaged when he crashed out in Galway.
The power of the older generation WR cars remains too much for the newer version, a view also expressed by the top Cork driver and former winner Darragh O’Riordan (Fiesta WRC), who makes his first outing of the season. The rally is the second round of the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac series and the opening round in the PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 Rally Championship.
In terms of the ITC, current leader Keith Cronin is top seed in his Citroen DS3R5.
From a disappointing performance in the opening round of the BRC, the Ballylickey ace will be expected to get back in the groove especially on his home patch and repeat his maximum points haul from Galway. The likes of Alastair Fisher, Sam and Josh Moffett and Stephen Wright, all in Ford Fiesta R5s, and Antrim’s Desi Henry (Skoda Fabia R5) provide the thrust of the opposition.
Meanwhile, the top 10 also features Clonakilty’s Kevin Kelleher (Subaru WRC) and Clonmel’s Roy White (Ford Fiesta WRC).
Elsewhere, there are debut drives for Ovens driver Owen Murphy in his Hankook-liveried Skoda Fabia S2000 and Castleisland’s Alan Ring in a Ford Fiesta R5. Aaron MacHale (Skoda Fabia S2000) is also competing. In Group N, Dunmanway’s David Guest (Mitsubishi) bids to extend his early series advantage in the category within the Tarmac series. The leading protagonists in the Modified section are Wesley Patterson, Adrian Hetherington, Frank Kelly, Brian Brogan and Enda O’Brien, all in Ford Escorts, Eugene Meegan (BMW) and Mark Straker (Darrian). There are eight stages tomorrow and six on Sunday,the finish in Emmet Square (4.30pm).
Elsewhere, the European Rally Championship gets underway today with the 40 Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Inglés. Holder Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Alexey Lukyanuk and Mads Ostberg, all in Ford Fiesta R5s, are top seeds.
The Irish circuit racing season begins on Sunday in Mondello Park with the Touring Cars headlining the programme.