Monaghan’s Sam Moffett and his Cork co-driver Karl Atkinson (Fiesta R5) were 37.9 seconds further behind in third.
On Saturday’s penultimate leg the frenetic battle between overnight leader Declan Boyle (Ford Fiesta) and fellow Donegal driver Donagh Kelly (Ford Focus) continued through the days opening four stages. With three fastest times Kelly trimmed the deficit to 4.3 seconds. Meanwhile, Manus Kelly (Subaru WRC) had an off road excursion on the S.S. 8, he lost well over a minute and slipped down to eighth position. Alastair Fisher (Fiesta R5) lost time with suspension damage on S.S. 7 and a puncture early in S.S. 10. Elsewhere, Keith Cronin, who clattered a chicane on Knockalla made up some time to occupy sixth.
The afternoon’s stage at Carnhill brought an end to the Boyle and Donagh Kelly battle when the latter’s Focus blew its engine. Suddenly, Boyle was in total command and led Leonard by a minute and 50.5 seconds. That margin grew by a few more seconds as the Donegal man set about the day’s final stage. Drama unfolded once more when a transmission related issue brought his Fiesta to a halt.
Suddenly, Leonard was the new rally leader, but there was little time for revelling in his new role. One of the performances of the day came from Keith Cronin, who powered his Citroen DS3 R5 from eighth overnight into second – a mere 3.3 seconds behind Leonard. Sam Moffett was a further 15.3 seconds behind in third – he lost time when he encountered Alastair Fisher‘s stricken Fiesta on Stage 11. The Tyrone ace Fisher out-braked himself at a chicane and then slipped into a ditch as he tried to extricate his Fiesta from the situation, he ended the day in tenth. Manus Kelly worked his way up to fourth in a top six that also included Josh Moffett (Fiesta) and Eugene Donnelly (Mini WRC).
In the early hours the organisers revised Moffett’s time for Stage 11 after he was slowed by the Fisher incident – it catapulted Moffett into top spot ahead of yesterday’s stages - 0.3 of a second ahead of Leonard with Cronin 3.3 seconds further behind.
In wet conditions Leonard went into lead on the High Glen stage. Then, Cronin became the fourth different leader when he went top of the standings with fastest time on S.S. 16, Atlantic Drive. Leonard crashed out on stage at Fanad Head where Manus Kelly set a superb time to slot into second 7.6 seconds behind Cronin. Sam Moffett was third.
Stage 18 was cancelled for safety reasons. As the excitement escalated, Cronin actually extended his lead on the penultimate stage, a repeat of Atlantic Drive, to lead Kelly 9.3 seconds.
The classic Fanad Head provided the final test of what was a pulsating encounter, the most exciting in decades. Cronin, running ahead of Kelly clocked a time 15.7 seconds better than his previous run, all the more remarkable given it was punctuated by a fuel problem. However, Kelly’s final throw of the dice yielded the laurels by a mere half a second. As he celebrated, Cronin was content with maximum championship points as he moved to within 4.5 points of joint leaders Alastair Fisher and Sam Moffett.
In Group N, Aidan Wray (Mitsubishi EvoX) finished 54.7 seconds ahead of Cork’s David Guest (Mitsubishi). Scotland’s David Bogie (Escort) won the National event. Cork racer Matt Griffin and team, mates Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott had to be content with eleventh place in the GTE Am category of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Engine difficulties with their AF Corse Ferrari brought several unwanted pit stops.