Motorsport: Donnelly blow fails to dampen Galway Rally anticipation
The absence of reigning champion Eugene Donnelly from the entry list of this weekend's first round of the Citroen Irish Tarmac Championship will not diminish the enormous sense of relief when the Safety Direct Galway International Rally starts in Oranmore on Saturday.
After months of political wrangling threatened to cause an organisers boycott of rallying this season, the Tarmac series has a new high-profile sponsor in Citroen and a renewed sense of optimism ahead of what is likely to be seen as a year of transition for the series.
While Donnelly's budget-enforced absence is a blow, he is working hard to put together a deal to return to the stages soon and hopes to make at least one appearance this season.
"I'll take stock of things over the next couple of months and see if I can put something together for the Circuit of Ireland," Donnelly said.
With Donnelly sidelined, attention shifts to No 1 seeds Gareth MacHale and Brian Murphy in their Ford Focus WRC for the first of six rounds.
Former WRC competitor MacHale claimed his first Tarmac Championship victory in Donegal last season and will be eager to add a Tarmac title to his CV.
At No 2, Tim McNulty and Paul Kiely will provide stiff opposition in their Subaru Impreza WRC, while the progress of British Rally champion, Cork's Keith Cronin, will be watched with interest.
Meanwhile, Billy Coleman award-winner Craig Breen will also be in the limelight as he gives the Ford Fiesta Super 2000 its competitive debut on Irish soil.
Fresh from his first test of the car at the Petro System National Forestry Championship Test day in Charleville last week, Breen will be looking forward to giving the series regulars a run for their money.
"The car feels a lot different from the ST and R2 models, but I'm more than happy with the first test," said Breen.
The rally in Galway gets under way tomorrow evening with a ceremonial start in Oranmore.
2010 Safety Direct Galway International Rally -- top 10 entrants
1: Gareth MacHale/Brian Murphy (Ford Focus WRC)
2: Tim McNulty/Paul Kiely (Subaru Impreza WRC)
3:Keith Cronin/Barry McNulty (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9)
4: Aaron MacHale/TBA (Ford Focus WRC)
5: Patrick Elliott/Paul Goodman (Subaru Impreza WRC)
6: Kevin Barrett/Sean Mullally (Subaru Impreza WRC)
7: Alastair Fisher/Rory Kennedy (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9)
8: Garry Jennings/David Moynihan (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9)
9: Craig Breen/Gareth Roberts (Ford Fiesta S2000)
10: Mike Bird/Kevin Keane (Subaru Impreza WRC)