Even though the entry list for tomorrow’s Letterkenny-based Donegal Closed Mini Stage Rally includes Tyrone’s Alastair Fisher (Ford Fiesta R5+), Antrim’s Desi Henry (Skoda Fabia R5), and Louth’s Brendan Cumiskey (Ford Fiesta), the trio will not start, due to tweaked rally regulations.
They had intended to compete in Class 20, instead they will now focus their attentions on next week’s Corrib Oil Galway International Rally, the opening round of the Tarmac series.
In their absence, Donegal’s Martin Doherty’s Mitsubishi Evo IX will be first car away for the triple loop of two stages close to Letterkenny. Winner of two previous closed events, the Ballybofey native should set a quick pace.
Opposition will come from Frank Wray (Subaru), the Skoda Fabia S2000s of Joseph McGonigle and John Mullholland and a plethora of Escorts that along with aiming for victory, will also vie for two-wheel drive honour.
Cavan’s Gary McPhillips, Chris Armstrong, Jonathan Pringle, Lisburn’s Wesley Patterson, and Donegal pair Manus Kelly and Brian Brogan form the thrust of that sector. Rally headquarters is the Clanree Hotel with the first car away at 10am.
Elsewhere, recently married pair, Limerick’s Matt Shinnors and Cork’s Catherine Levis, will compete in the Arctic Lapland Rally in Rovaniemi that begins at noon today. They will campaign a BMW 325i.
Northern Ireland’s Michael Orr will co-drive for Yazeed Alrajhi (Fiesta WRC). Cavan’s Gary McPhillips, Chris Armstrong, and Jonathan Pringle, Lisburn’s Wesley Patterson along with Donegal pair Manus Kelly and Brian Brogan in the spine of that sector.
Meanwhile, the National Navigation Trial Championship and the Munster Navigation Trial series dovetail tomorrow night for the Skibbereen 100 Isles Navigation Trial based in Innishannon.
The national series has reached the halfway mark, with the Longford/Monaghan crew of Pakie Duffy/Evin Hughes leading the West Cork pair of Dermot Whelton/Mark McCarthy by five points.
The northern pair has held the edge for most of the season – only losing out to the local crew on the Cork Startrek event last November.
In the last round, Duffy/Hughes took honours and a similar performance on Saturday night will be a big step towards retention of their national crown.
They are also in contention for the Munster series, albeit a handful of points behind Whelton/McCarthy who are one of three crews to share the lead at the penultimate stage of the regional series.
Cork’s Donal Healy/Denis O’Donovan and Limerick’s Alan Shinnors/George Shinnors are the others crews in contention and could play a role in the destiny of the national series should they split the leading duo.
Another Cork pair, Owen Murphy/Daire Hayes could also figure prominently. Based at the Innishannon Community Hall, the first car away on the 85-mile event is at 11pm.
Former double Irish Forest rally champion Owen Murphy is set to conclude a deal to drive an ex-Freddy Loix Skoda Fabia S2000 on the Quality Hotel West Cork Rally in March.
The Cork driver may also contest other rounds of the Tarmac series such as the Rally of the Lakes and the Cork “20” International.
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