Eugene Donnelly and co-driver Paddy Toner have written themselves into the rallying history books by clinching a fifth Irish Tarmac Rally Championship with a second place finish on the Cork 20 International Rally.

The success was also the first major championship win worldwide for the Skoda Fabia WRC, which was tended all year by Derek McGeehan's hard working team with technical input from Eric Wevers in Holland.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet," Donnelly conceded, "Every championship we won has been momentous, and this one definitely has its place. It's great for all the team who have worked so hard, and the sponsors who have enabled us to compete at all.

"Without the likes of Sligo Pallets, Kumho Tyres, Ears Motorsport, Shell Oil Fuels, The Limelight Glenties and Orchard Motorsport, we wouldn't be here at all, and also for Cork we had additional necessary support from Lakeland Tyres as our main sponsor, Eamonn Tarrant Skoda and Todds Leap. All these people have made a difference.

"Paddy Toner has been brilliant throughout the year too. Paddy won the Northern Ireland Championship with me, and helped me clinch the National Title in 2003. Now he has got the Irish Tarmac title as well. He had a tough job in Cork, but he kept me right all weekend to clinch the title."

The pair really had the championship to lose on the weekend's final Cork 20 round and were understandably apprehensive.

"I was very nervous at the start, knowing I had to finish, and the first stage just didn't flow - I knew it wasn't a great time before I got to the end," Donnelly admitted, "Then things started to flow better for us, and I was very happy not to be taking any risks and be not too far off Gareth [McHale]'s pace.

"By the afternoon loop, he took a couple of seconds, on stages five and six, I was one second faster on seven, but we beat the bogey and, over the last two stages of the day, there was only a couple of seconds in it. I must say I enjoyed the first day with three stages, three times. We got the choice of Kumhos right, and the car was working very well. It reminded me of the old Irish National rallies that format and, going to bed on Saturday night, we were a lot more settled."

Admitting to a slow start on Sunday's opener, Donnelly dropped almost ten seconds to McHale, but really the job in hand was to make the finish.

"We kept ourselves close enough, if he had a puncture or drama, that we could slip in for a rally win, but the championship was the priority," Donnelly admitted, "The car ran faultlessly - in fact, it's been very reliable all season. The only time we didn't finish was in Killarney, where we had an accident, and that was definitely my fault!

"The last three stages of Cork were torture though. I was never as paranoid about things as in my whole career. There were a few long straights and I was worrying about everything, listening for noises, but everything held together. I simply could hardly believe it."

It was a superb debut event for Eugene's new sponsor, Lisnaskea-based Lakeland Tyres, and MD Adrian Frazer was understandably delighted.

"It's superb to be involved with the team, and hopefully it will benefit both ourselves and Eugene," he said, "We are doing some rebranding and have recently opened a new purpose-built car and truck depot, so being able to help support the team at this time is fantastic, and exciting for our business."

But the real excitement is reserved for Donnelly, as his fifth Irish Tarmac title equals Austin McHale's all-time record and his tally of 19 Irish Tarmac Rally victories is just one below the all time record set by the late Bertie Fisher.

"I need to let this one sink in first, and then I will think about next year!" he said when asked about his plans for 2010, "But, of course, I will be doing my utmost to be in Galway in February, and I relish the start of the new six-round championship.

"I am also glad to see the organiser's decision to keep the World Rally Cars on board. I still believe they are the most exciting, and I have been lucky to pick up my titles having great battles and competition each season."

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment