Callum Devine has taken another leap towards his first-ever Donegal International Rally win as a half spin for British Rally champion Matt Edwards gave Devine breathing space heading into the final day.
The first six stages of this year’s Donegal Rally were all about former European Rally Championship regular Devine and triple British champion Edwards. Just 5.8 seconds split Devine’s leading Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 and Edwards’ Citroën C3 Rally2.
After new stages on Friday, Edwards’ task was expected to be tougher on Saturday as the crews tackled classics like Fanad Head and Knockalla. But the Welsh visitor Edwards was quickest on the opener (albeit by just six tenths) to trim Devine’s lead and set up a big race.
Devine though hit back on Fanad Head, stealing 2.3s from Edwards to remind him who was boss. He was awesome on Knockalla too to go fastest once again, and earned his break when Edwards faltered, dropping over 20s with a half-spin.
But they say Donegal is a 300km sprint, not a marathon, and Edwards kept at it impeccably, whittling down his 27.7s deficit to 15.9s after the afternoon’s repeat loop. Devine confirmed that he had a “small issue” with the car on the second loop that hampered his time.
Sensing the pressure, and seemingly feeling happier with his car, Devine hit back on the shorter third loop to shade Edwards by 0.9s on both of the stages to carry a 17.7s advantage into Sunday.
Behind the thrilling scrap for victory, third-placed Alastair Fisher is involved in a fight of his own, fending off the attention of Irish Tarmac Rally Championship leader Josh Moffett.
The once Junior WRC competitor’s pace took a step forwards relative to the opening day, but Fisher’s day wasn’t without its peril – a hot two-wheel moment on the afternoon’s first stage leaving him visibly shaking by stage-end.
Moffett won that stage, his first of the weekend, to close in on his rival but the Hyundai i20 R5 pilot was “dazzled” heading onto SS11 as his intercom was playing up on the way to the stage – costing him a second to Fisher’s Polo.
He then took a strong 4.7s out of Fisher on the second pass of Knockalla to sit just 0.1s behind heading into the final two tests of the day.
But Moffett tripped up, overshooting a junction on the penultimate stage of the day – although he did well to only lose a handful of seconds, tugging on the handbrake to spin his Hyundai around and continue on his way.
The gap between the pair stands at 5.1s.
Meirion Evans is the second VW driver on the leaderboard to be wedged in a scrap with a Moffett, but he lost out to Sam Moffett – who edged Craig Breen to the most recent Donegal victory in 2019 – to trail him by just 0.4s overall.
Moffett, who is defending the honor of the World Rally Car in his Fiesta up against a swarm of R5 and Rally2 machines, had been chipping away at his deficit all day, and finally leapt past his rival on the day’s eighth and final stage.
But it’s of no grave concern to Evans’ championship situation as Moffett is ineligible competing in a WRC car. With Edwards also not registered for ITRC points, Evans is on for fourth place in the series.
Declan Boyle finds himself in no-man’s land in the second WRC car in the top 10, holding a comfortable seventh ahead of Modified category leader Kevin Gallagher.
Gallagher started his attack on Saturday with just a 1.7s buffer over fellow Darrian T90 GTR driver James Stafford, but some supreme times over the course of the day allowed him to construct a 31.4s lead over his rival.
Garry Jennings is sandwiched by the pair in his Ford Fiesta R5, lying 13.9s adrift of the flying Gallagher.
Desi Henry had been inside the top eight but trouble soon arose as his Ford Fiesta Rally2 suffered with mechanical gremlins as early as the first stage in the morning. His car kept stopping and he elected to retire in service after the first loop.
DirtFish-backed Max McRae had another solid day in his Ford Fiesta Rally4, running third in class and keeping his nose clean on what is his first ever rally outside of Australia.