Highs and High Drama Mark Donnelly on Pirelli International Rally! For Mark Donnelly, last weekend's Pirelli International Rally fell on his 19th birthday, and once again the young Omagh driver showed tremendous speed for his youthful...
Highs and High Drama Mark Donnelly on Pirelli International Rally!
For Mark Donnelly, last weekend's Pirelli International Rally fell on his 19th birthday, and once again the young Omagh driver showed tremendous speed for his youthful age on the fast, dusty forest roads in the Cumbrian Kielder forest complex. Having won the opening round of the Citroen Racing Trophy (CRT) UK and second round of the CRT Ireland, Mark and co-driver Paddy Robinson entered the weekend's event in confident mood, but misfortune was to strike even before they got to the first of Friday evenings special stages. "On the road section out to the first stage, suddenly there was water coming inside the car and leaking out of the engine bay, so we pulled over straight away. A water hose had come off, and it was very difficult to get at to put it back on. We arrived at the first stage 13 minutes late, picking up a two minute penalty, but we were lucky, another two minutes later and we would have been out of the rally!"
To add to the woes on the Friday night stages in forests, they had to cruise through the first test, with the car low on water and were now running second last car on the road. On stage 2, the Fiesta starting in front of them punctured and the C2's progress was stymied in the choking dust, costing Mark a further minute. On the third and final night stage, the unusually named Black Shed 1, the car now had a full quantity of water and a clean run netted them fastest CRT time, a good end to a difficult first night for the team. At this stage Mark found himself 3 minutes 20 seconds behind C2 leader Richard Sykes, a position that seemed insurmountable.
The second day brought the meat of the event however, with eight forestry stages in the fast, heavily cambered Kielder tracks, the infamous ditches waiting to catch the unwary, but Mark kept the C2 between the ditches all day, and once again showed his pace. "I woke up on Saturday and I felt good about the stages ahead. I decided to see what I could get out of this rally, and really we went for a big push all day. It was paying off as by the start of the last stage we were up to second Citroen just over a minute behind Robert Barrable." Indeed having been over three minutes down after their previous evening's episodes, Mark had made up significant time, despite severe tyre wear at times on the stages, but there was one last drama in store.
"Going into the last stage, we had second hand tyres on the front as we had gone through our allocated tyres, and at that stage we knew we weren't going to catch Robert, so we were happy to ease it through. Unfortunately though we got a mile into the stage, and we felt we had a puncture. We had no option but to stop and change, so it dropped us almost 4 minutes." Nevertheless Mark and Paddy still claimed 17th overall, 5th in Group R, 4th Citroen C2 R2 Max home, netting them 2000E from Citroen Racing. The C2 is now being re-prepared by Robbie McGurk of Motor Sport Service for this weekend's Killarney International, the third round of the Citroen Racing Trophy Ireland series, a tight time schedule for the car and for student Mark.
"I have a wee exam on Thursday morning, so I'll be straight down the road then to Killarney to start my recce. It's not ideal but hopefully we can get our notes done correctly and I'm looking forward to the stages in Killarney, as they are usually very good flowing roads."
Mark has set some fast times before in Killarney in his ST Fiesta, but this year he has significant opposition in the Citroen Racing Trophy and will be aiming to improve on his current second position in the series this weekend. For anyone wishing to keep track of this young up and coming rally driver's progress, check out the new website, www.markdonnellyrallying.com
-source: mark donnelly