The ends of stages are the best places to capture a driver’s full and unfiltered emotion. The adrenalin is flowing and they’ve left it all on the line just seconds earlier, so the whole truth tends to be told.
But it’s rare to find a driver quite so overcome by the occasion as Josh Moffett was on Sunday.
Moffett’s achieved many things in rallying, particularly in Ireland, but a Donegal International win had so far eluded him. Not anymore.
As his yellow, white and blue Hyundai rolled down the hill to the awaiting media, there was a sudden eruption of applause. Everyone knew the job Moffett and co-driver Andy Hayes had just done.
Winning Donegal is like a championship title in itself. Rather appropriately, the win here has put Moffett in a commanding position in this year’s race to be Irish Tarmac champion, but that was the last thing on his mind as he opened the door and was greeted by a swarm of cameras and microphones.
I think there's enough clips online there to show how hard we've been trying. They were starting to become normal, we weren't calling them moments anymore!Josh Moffett on his big push to catch the leaders in Donegal
“We’re lost for the words at the minute, it’s just been such a long and tough weekend there,” were the first words Moffett offered.
“We were pushing so hard from the word go. Obviously we went on the wrong tires at the start of the rally and we dropped quite a bit of time there, but from there we’ve just pushed so hard.
“I think there’s enough clips online there to show how hard we’ve been trying. They were starting to become normal, we weren’t calling them moments anymore!
“It’s just unbelievable to get to the end. To win is pretty special.”
The interviews were then interrupted first by Josh’s brother, Sam, who offered his hand to congratulate his sibling and welcome him to the club. Sam is a two-time Donegal winner and triumphed over Craig Breen the last time the rally ran in 2019.
Then it was the turn of Josh’s girlfriend, who couldn’t control the tears. Naturally, this set Josh off too, and the pair of them embraced in truly heartwarming fashion – the media then turning attention to capturing this particular scene.
DirtFish had waited patiently, but then we got our turn with the man of the moment. Why did this win mean quite so much?
“We really just tried so hard from the word go, we were pushing so hard all weekend,” Moffett said.
“I don’t know, it’s surprised me a bit there as well. It’s a long three days, it’s a draining three days and to get to the end of it, and win the rally is unbelievable.”
It certainly was, given Moffett never really looked like a rally winner for the first two days – particularly not when he strangely managed to wedge his i20 R5 onto a park bench when leaving to drive through the start ramp.
The wrong tire choice – full wets when the road turned out to be predominantly dry – “was more or less a 30s self-inflicted penalty at the start of the rally”. That’s no exaggeration: He trailed leader Callum Devine by 32.9 seconds after the first loop.
By the end of Saturday he was fourth overall, keeping Alastair Fisher honest. Moffett was some 48.9s down on Devine – although it wasn’t for the want of trying. Some hairy slides and an overshoot were perfect proof that Moffett wasn’t ready to just settle and take some championship points.
But in short, he wasn’t factored into the equation as Devine and British Rally champion Matt Edwards had bossed proceedings throughout. On a rally as long as Donegal though, two perfect days count for nothing if the ball is dropped on the third.
Gartan, Sunday morning’s opener, changed everything. First into view where DirtFish was watching was Edwards’ Citroën C3 Rally2 – an immediate sign of trouble, given Devine was due to be the first car through.
A head-on collision with a bale burst the radiator on his VW and left Devine’s Donegal dream dangling for another year.
Edwards was then on for an unprecedented Donegal win at his first attempt. All he had to do was keep it on the road, but incredibly – on the very next stage – Edwards crashed out too.
Moffett had been handed a gift, and in the form he’s in (eight wins and two runners-up finishes so far in 2022) he was never about to refuse it.
A superb yet under-the-radar stage win on Gartan, given rally leader Devine had just stacked it, moved Moffett ahead of Fisher and that proved to be the rally-winning move.
Fourth had become second which then soon became first, and Moffett kept up the pace to keep Fisher at arm’s length. The rally gods had a final trick up their sleeve as Fisher was robbed of his chance to reply with a puncture on the penultimate stage, but that didn’t relent the pressure upon Moffett’s shoulders.
It had granted him a big lead, but then he had it all to lose – actually passing Fisher on the stage that proved to be his culprit. Imagine the sudden shift Moffett must have felt from chasing the dream down to having it within his hands.
Brother Sam, who finished second to make it a family 1-2 for the first time ever in Donegal history, even admitted “the worst I drove was through that last stage, I was more worried that he [Josh] got through it, I was like ‘please don’t see him in here'”. And for context, Sam had Meirion Evans to worry about and fend off to protect his own result.
Josh felt similar: “I suppose we had a bit of a breather going into that last stage but it didn’t make it much easier, the nerves to get through it. I was just trying to get through it, to get to the end was such a relief,” he said.
In the end, it was a lesson in never giving up. Both of the Moffett brothers had misread the stage conditions and were stung badly on Friday morning, and yet they were the two occupying the top two steps of the podium back in Letterkenny.
It was a long old three-day slog filled with calculated risks, unwavering determination and maximum concentration, but it all came good. To win Ireland’s biggest event is one thing, but to do it when not even considered to be in the ring is quite extraordinary.
Little wonder Moffett felt overpowered by the accomplishment. But no matter what happens this season he will now forever and always be a Donegal International winner.
“Yeah,” he said in disbelief, “and especially with the lineup at the start of this weekend [it’s incredible to do it].
“I know Callum was unfortunate this morning and so was Matt. It is a long rally and those boys were flying all weekend, it’s a credit to them.
“It’s just getting to the end of it and to win it… sometimes you think to yourself, will you ever win Donegal? But yeah, [I’m] over the moon.”