As the evenings draw in and sun slowly sets on another busy season in Irish rallying, there is no better place for a swansong than the legendary by-roads of County Donegal. The An Grianan Hotel Harvest Rally was set to bring the curtain down on the 2015 Sligo Pallets Border Championship, with an oversubscribed entry battling to decide final class honours. Centred around Burt, with service in Buncrana, a strong field was poised to take on 9 challenging special stages in the beautiful Inishowen Peninsula – the most northerly outpost of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Top seed and first on the road were last year’s winners Declan and Brian Boyle in their Fiesta WRC. Overnight rain made the narrow, technical stages deceptively greasy; many drivers struggled over this opening loop. Peadar Hurson and Damien Connolly had no such difficulties. Their aging Subaru WRC was invincible on the first three tests. The duo took command of the rally, leading the Boyle cousins by almost 12 seconds. Local crew and Irish Tarmac Championship runners up, Joe McGonigle and Ciaran Geaney, forced their screaming Skoda S2000 into third position, just ahead of a fleet of very hard-charging Escorts.
Following the first service of the day, the sun came out, the tarmac started to dry and the pace increased. Hurson and Connolly, pushing hard on fresh tyres had an unscheduled excursion up a bank on SS4, which brought their event to a premature end. Following Hurson’s skirmish with the Donegal scenery, Boyle inherited the lead of the rally and didn’t look back, extending the gap between himself, McGonigle and the rest of the chasing pack.
The drying stages brought the rear wheel cars to the fore. Gary Kiernan reveled in the conditions, shooting to the sharp end of the leaderboard in his Class 13 Escort, sandwiched between the much more powerful Class 14 machines of Gary McPhillips and Wesley Patterson. Likewise, Donegal native, Damien Tourish was defying his lowly seeding with a series of times that saw him firmly in the midst of the top ten.
Former British Champion and Junior World Rally contender, Daniel McKenna, was also having another promising outing in the Kelly’s Toyota GT-86, fending off the Chairman of Donegal Motor Club, Brian Brogan, by a less than a second going into the final leg.
And an eventful leg this turned out to be. The Boyle Fiesta WRC performed flawlessly, with the dynamic Donegal cousins crossing the finish ramp as comfortable winners for the second year in succession. Joe McGonigle looked set for the runner’s up spot, following the demise of Gary McPhilip’s Escort. However, disaster struck for McGonigle when the Fabia, suffered technical difficulties enroute to the very last stage. Retirement was inevitable, leaving Gary Kiernan to take a podium position. Wesley Patterson rounded out the top three.
In the other categories, the Historic Rally was won by Seamus Herron and Gerry McVeigh’s and the junior class was won by Martin Swinburne and Gretchen Fegan.
Pictures and reporting courtesy of David Harrigan Images. For more event coverage, please check out the gallery below.
An Grianan Hotel Harvest Rally
1. Declan Boyle / Brian Boyle – Ford Fiesta WRC
2. Gary Kiernan / Niall Tierney – Ford Escort Mk2
3. Wesley Patterson / Johnny Baird – Ford Escort Mk2