How the West was won. It's highly likely that the name of Eugene Donnelly didn't really feature very much when the experts were putting together their lists of potential winners for West 2002. The big man from Maghera has been otherwise engaged...
How the West was won.
It's highly likely that the name of Eugene Donnelly didn't really feature very much when the experts were putting together their lists of potential winners for West 2002. The big man from Maghera has been otherwise engaged all year, winning the Irish Forest Rally Championship and placing second in the Northern Ireland one.
The result is that he has not been seen near a Toshiba Tarmac round for some time. Add to that the fact that this was his first appearance in a Subaru Impreza WRC, and it's easy to see why nobody was expecting too much. Were we all wrong or were we all wrong? Right from the start, he and his Stan Harper-prepared Impreza were near the front, "taking it gently and getting to know the car", and when first Peadar Hurson and then Austin McHale had adventures in the worsening weather conditions, Donnelly was right there, turning up the heat and going faster and faster with every passing stage.
Not even a sore back, caused by a particularly heavy landing earlier in the day slowed his progress, and by the somewhat premature finish, he was over a minute ahead of the recovering Hurson, whose Toyota Celica had earlier spent some 50s off the road. McHale ended up in third place with the Corolla WRC. The finish came a little early.
The 12 stage route had been devised so that the final four stages would run in darkness. However worsening weather and other considerations forced the organisers to declare a result at the end of Special Stage 10. Whether Hurson or McHale might have been able to catch the flying Donnelly over those final two stages must remain a matter of conjecture. However McHale, at least, must be pleased to have finished a event with the Toyota Ireland car in good fettle. It has to be ready to start the Network Q Rally of GB by the middle of this week!
The battle for Group N honours saw Trevor Cathers mount another giant-killing performance in his Mitsubishi Evo 5, taking fourth place overall and the Gp N lead from title rival Roy White on what turned out to be the final stage. The drama of what might have been, however, was somewhat defused at post-event scrutineering when White was excluded from the results for a turbocharger infringement. This allowed Maurice Gass to claim fifth place overall after another good run in his Impreza WRC. He was followed home by the Gp N cars of Seamus Leonard (Impreza), Dominic Loughran and Gerry McVeigh (Mitsubishis) with the GpA Celicas of Seamus Heron and Sean McArdle completing the top 10.
But it was Eugene Donnelly's day, rounding off a busy year which has seen him contest no fewer than 27 rallies. To score a first International win on your first drive in a WRC car is quite an achievement. That's how the West was won!