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2003 Donegal International Rally - 20-22 Jun 2003

Posted: June 18, 2003 1:22 PM - 12931 Hits

2003 Shell Donegal International Rally


This year's Shell Donegal International Rally has attracted a capacity 151 car entry, with 5 times Tarmac Champion Austin McHale in his Subaru heading a star studded field of Ireland's best rally drivers. The crews face three days of competition over 22 demanding asphalt stages through the fabulously scenic but rugged Donegal countryside.

Posted: June 18, 2003 1:22 PM

Irish Shell is again sponsor of the Shell Donegal International Rally. The Company is proud of its long association which will see the sponsorship extend to 21 years of continuous involvement, thus making it the longest continuous sponsorship in rallying in Ireland.

This year's event, which is co-sponsored by Donegal Oil and Inishowen Oil Company, will take place over the weekend of the 20th, 21st, 22nd June. The event will be based in Letterkenny with Rally Headquarters in the Mount Errigal Hotel.

Before the Rally Press Conference at Tony Kelly's Mercedes/Honda showroom in Letterkenny, Austin McHale commented, "I'm really looking forward to Donegal, it's interesting, going to give it a real go. Most of all though I hope it is a safe rally for everyone, especially in memory of last year's tragedy." Austin is competing on the Scottish Rally this weekend, so should be very match fit for Donegal.

Austin McHale runs at No.1 in deference to his FIA Priority 'B ' seeding, ahead of current Tarmac Champion Andrew Nesbitt, Killarney Rally of the Lakes winner Eugene Donnelly at 3 and this year's Circuit of Ireland winner Derek McGarrity at 4. Eamonn Boland and Maurice Gass make up the top six. All will drive Subaru Impreza WRC's, the dominant car at the forefront of Irish rallying.

The man to beat in recent years on the Donegal Rally has undoubtedly been Andrew Nesbitt. In 2000, the last year of the full Donegal International, he was fastest on every single special stage - a completely unique feat. Andrew missed the last round of the Tarmac Championship this year, the Killarney Lakes. Hopefully he will be back here in Donegal in full flight, perhaps with an Impreza WRC S8.

Eugene Donnelly has been the revelation of Irish rallying recently. In 2000 he was one of the sensations of the Donegal Rally, pushing his Escort G3 right into the top ten, ahead of much more sophisticated machinery. Last year he won the Irish Forestry Championship in his Celica, won the final Tarmac Championship round, the Galway West International, in a Subaru. This year he has won the Killarney Lakes in the same '98 Impreza WRC, as well as National events such as Cavan and Munster. Eugene is fast turning into an Irish rallying folk hero. Who knows what he is going to do here in Donegal.

Derek McGarrity at 4 will have a new Impreza WRC from Prodrive for this Donegal Rally. The Glengormley man would dearly love to debut it with a win. The rally is round three of the Tarmac Championship, and Derek leads the points on 27, with Eamonn Boland on 18, Maurice Gass and Eugene Donnelly equal on 15.

"Can't wait to get on the Donegal Stages" commented McGarrity, "I'm confident I can work with most of the boys in the top ten. Of course I'll be thinking about the Tarmac Championship. I really have to beat Eamonn, Austin and Eugene. In Killarney we had a tyre issue, and that won't happen in Donegal. I love stages like Atlantic Drive, although to be honest I've retired early a few times in Donegal so I don't have huge experience of all the stages."

Eamonn Boland, the quiet man of Irish rallying and so experienced, Maurice Gass, Southern Four Championship leader and each in their own way capable of getting right into the top times in Donegal. Eamonn's car is possibly one of the best in the world in private hands. Maurice's Subaru is getting completely rebuilt, with the engine and transmission both back in Prodrive for overhaul.

Looking on down the top ten we have Peadar Hurson at 7, still getting to grips with his Impreza WRC, but one of these days it is going to click and then Peadar will certainly be one to watch. It is good to see Daniel and Michael Doherty back, the Carndonagh brothers running at 8, their Subaru now rebuilt after their accident when leading the Donegal Harvest. Paul Harris at 9 is another very welcome 'returnee'. Paul, the 2000 National Champion, drives his very potent GpA Impreza and always makes the sparks fly on his home Donegal stages. John Joe Fleming rounds off the top ten.

He drives the ex McGarrity Circuit of Ireland winning Impreza S8 and can be counted on to turn in a solid performance.

The interest certainly doesn't tail off outside the top ten. We are then into the best of the GpN cars, with Seamus Leonard at 11 debuting a new Subaru, and sure to be looking over his shoulder at the Lancers of Andrew Stewart, Roy White and Dickie Curran. Interestingly, young Aaron McHale, current National GpN Champion, perhaps in deference to his lack of Donegal experience, is back at 27 in his new Lancer Evo 8. Dickie Curran's son Michael is 26 in a Lancer.

Welshman Glyn Jones is at 16 in his Impreza WRC. His son Gareth, just 23 years old and quite a talent, is at No.24. Other visitors include Dermot Hanafin at 34 in an Impreza WRC, the ever-exciting Yorkshire man Steve Bannister at 35 in his famous RWD Escort. Glasgow man Phil Walker at 48 in his Mazda. Malachy Crawford, home from New York to drive a Raymond Mason Lancer, is at 73.

There is a lot more of interest in the entry for this Shell Donegal International Rally. Two times Donegal winner James Cullen is seeded at 21 and is down to drive a GpN Civic. Peugeot works driver Garry Jennings is at 17 in the Fisher Engineering backed 106 Maxi. Top local drivers include Kilmacrennan's Ivan Stewart, Letterkenny's Stephen Harris (Lancer), Gweedore's Eugene Ferry at 29 in an Escort and class leader Paul Gallagher at 33 in his Corolla. The Historic cars join in on Saturday for the second loop of stages and then compete through to the Letterkenny finish.

Always to the forefront of course we must echo Austin McHale's words. "Most of all though I hope it is a safe rally for everybody, especially in light of last year's tragedy."

Once again the rally organisers expect thousands of spectators and the number one priority of the Club will be to ensure their safety and enjoyment. The Motor Club will be working in close liaison with the Donegal Road Safety Working Group which comprises of An Garda Siochana, the North Western Heath Board and the Donegal County Council.

With 9 points separating 1st & 2nd place in the Championship, the Shell Donegal International will be crucial to many of the main contenders. This is the mid point event for overall honours and with fifteen points for the winner there is sure to be an immense battle to see who sprays the champagne at the finish ramp on Sunday evening.


Scrutineering will take place in the National Car Test Centre situated at Derry Road, Letterkenny commencing at 4pm on Thursday 19th June. There the cars will be checked for compliance with technical as well as safety regulations. This will also allow the public to see the rally supercars close up. A viewing area will be cordoned off to the public. Documentation checks and Press Office will be situated in the Mount Errigal Hotel.

  • Friday:
    The Rally proper will start from its new location at An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny at approximately 12.00pm on Friday (20th June). Drivers will compete over six stages, a format of three stages each done twice, before returning to an overnight halt at Parc Ferme at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology on the Port Road.

  • Saturday:
    Saturday (21st June) is the day when the Rally starts in earnest. As is normal, Saturday takes in the famous stages of Carn Hill & Garrygort, followed by Service which will be centralised at the Mart in Milford. Fanad Head, and Knockalla, & Aughterlinn all being done twice with a return to Service and on to Parc Ferme at LYIT at approximately at approximately 17.20. Saturday will also see the inclusion of Historic rally cars who will start on the second loop on the Saturday morning.

  • Sunday:
    On Sunday (22nd June) the Rally heads to High Glen and Port Lake, with a Service at Downings before attempting the Atlantic Drive. There will be six stages in all, three being done twice, to be completed before a return to the victory ramp outside the Mount Errigal Hotel on Sunday evening at approximately 16.30.

    The route this year is just as tough, long and demanding as it has ever been. New Clerk of the Course Declan McCay and the Donegal Motor Club members have worked hard to create a superb challenge for the drivers. At a recent meeting Declan said, 'I am excited about the 2003 event, and the challenge for the organising team, to try out some new ideas. There will be a mix of new features for both the competitors and spectators, while some of the traditional favourite stages will still form part of this top Irish event'.

    'The competition this time is out of this world, not a step too far from World Championship Rallying. The number of competitive cars as well is fantastic. Hopefully the spectators will appreciate how lucky they are to enjoy such free entertainment for the weekend, as well as respect what they have, the countryside, private property, and the privilege of being part of 'Donegal.'
    One of Declan's first headaches has been to try and sort a hundred and fifty one cars from the two twenty entries, a daunting task for any COC. But such is the popularity of the Donegal Rally.


    The 2003 rally uses classic stages not used for some time. The rally route is more compact than in previous years, with a view to minimising spectator traffic between stages and bringing forward the finishing time of the rally on each day. This should enhance overall safety and provide a little more time to relax in the evenings.

    Friday sees three stages, Ardnadition, Grianan and Gortree with each to be run twice. They are all located close to Letterkenny with service based beside Kernan's Shell station in Newtowncunningham. With good surfaces and a flowing nature, they are very much driver stages with an emphasis on good handling cars and skilled drivers. Spectator access is good and the stages are close by each other. Expect some of the lesser-powered cars to make their mark.

    Saturday morning sees the return of the legendary Carn Hill, scene of Cahal Curley's demise in the Lancia Stratos back in 1978 when he clipped a bridge parapet and damaged the suspension. With a twisty demanding start over Carn Hill, the stage opens into the fast flowing run to Ballyare Bridge. Access is good at several points along the Letterkenny ' Kilmacrennan road, and from Milford. There is no spectator access allowed at the start or finish of any of the stages.

    Garrygort, located between Ramelton and Milford, follows Carn Hill and is another flowing stage with several good junctions. It is followed by a service halt centralised at Milford Mart. A challenging stage, access is good but the road is narrow in places and spectators are advised to be in place in good time. The two stages, both classics, are then repeated.

    The Rally moves into the Fanad Peninsula on Saturday afternoon. Fanad Head is followed by Knockalla and then Meentagh, which finishes near the Rathmullan ' Ramelton road. The last of these has not been used for many years and requires a precise driving style, in contrast to the 'big road' sweeps of Knockalla. Spectator movement between these stages will be difficult.


    The Rally returns to The Mount Errigal Hotel in Letterkenny overnight.

    Sunday morning kicks off with High Glen, a Donegal favourite. With popular access points near the start, the daunting stage climbs before the descent towards Glen, after which a sequence of tight twists and turns reveals who has made the right tyre choice.

    Next up is Port Lake north of Creeslough. This stage, at nearly 12 miles, returns to the rally after some absence. Run in different configurations in the past, it is at times twisty and bumpy and at times breathtakingly fast and flowing. The descent from the mountain gap towards Dunfanaghy can be seen from the access road off the Dunfanaghy- Falcarragh road and is recommended as the cars are in view for a long time.

    The final stage in the Sunday trilogy is Atlantic Drive. It remains as one of the best drivers stages anywhere. Access is limited and it is best to arrive early at the traditional spots. Service is based in Downings and spectators are asked to be sensible about parking and to avoid causing congestion.

    These three stages are repeated and the Rally will finish on Atlantic Drive, just as it did in the first ever Donegal International. The first car is due back at the finish ramp at the Mount Errigal Hotel at 4.30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.

    The Rally will start from An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny and Parc Ferme each evening will be at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology. No spectator traffic will be allowed into the Institute during the weekend.

    The Organisers have called all visitors to respect private property and to co-operate with event officials and marshals. A classic weekend of competition and craic is in prospect.

     1 Austin McHale/Brian Murphy	(Subaru Impreza WRC S7)	
     2 Andrew Nesbitt/James O'Brien	(TBA)	
     3 Eugene Donnelly/Paul Kiely	(Subaru Impreza WRC98)	
     4 Derek Mc Garrity/Dermot O'Gorman	(Subaru Impreza WRC S8)	
     5 Eamon Boland/Damien Morrisey	(Subaru Impreza WRC S8)	
     6 Maurice Gass/TBN 	(Subaru Impreza WRC S7)	
     7 Peadar Hurson/Ian Porter	(Subaru Impreza WRC P2000)	
     8 Daniel Doherty/Michael Doherty	(Subaru Impreza WRC P2000)	
     9 Paul Harris/TBN 	(Subaru Impreza STI)	
    10 John Joe Fleming/Paul Goodman	(Subaru Impreza WRC S8)	
    11 Seamus Leonard/Paul McLaughlin	(Subaru Impreza WRX N9)	
    12 Andrew Stewart/Fabian McShane	(Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6)	
    14 Roy White/Greg Shinnors	(Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7)	
    15 Dick Curran/Billy Mc Cullins	(Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 7)	
    16 Glyn Jones/Paul  Nagle	(Subaru Impreza WRC99)	
    17 Garry Jennings/Gordan Noble	(Peugeot 106 Maxi)	
    18 Ivan Stewart/Joe Friel	(Ford Escort RS Cosworth)	
    19 Glenn Allen/John Gallagher	(Ford Escort WRC)	
    20 Alan Nesbitt/Enda Sherry	(Toyota Celica GT-Four)	
    21 James Cullen/TBN 	(TBA)	

    Declan McCay, Clerk of the Course for the event paid tribute to just some of the bodies and individuals who are helping the Rally.
                               OF TECHNOLOGY
    By Damian Crawford, Press Officer

    The Shell Donegal International Rally 2003 is ready to start on 20th June next. The Rally returns this year to a number of "classic" stages that have not been used for a number of years, and the indications are that competitor interest is as high as ever.

    Clerk of the Course Declan McCay commented: "We are having what has become the usual headache of selecting competitors from the massively oversubscribed entry. A few years back the Donegal Motor Club devised selection criteria, which is of great help, but the reserve entry will be as big as ever. Interest from overseas competitors is up again, and reflects our promotion of the event abroad.

    We've been getting lots of calls from competitors anxious to know if they are in the rally. Notifications are on the way and we will have all in place for the main press conference next week, which is being hosted at the Letterkenny premises of local Mercedes and Honda main dealer Tony Kelly."

    " This year we have altered the timetable of the Rally, with earlier finishing times on each day. It should allow for a more relaxed weekend and help all those involved in local catering and hospitality. Changes in the route have made this possible, and we will monitor how it all works."

    "We are having a second Marshalling seminar on Saturday 7th June in the Mount Errigal Hotel Letterkenny at 8.p.m. All marshals, or anyone interested in marshalling, should come along. Refreshments will be served. Anybody interested in helping in any other way is welcome also".

    "The Shell Donegal International Rally Ireland 2003 follows the path of every other running of the rally since it started. This is where you must come if you want to be taken seriously as a competitor. We have chosen some of the classic stages this year because they are among the best in Europe, indeed the World, and many of our competitors now operate to World standards. They deserve the best that we can provide."

    "We have been inundated with requests for entries and accommodation since before the Rally regulations were published and it looks like we have a classic Donegal in the making already. Our website at www.donegalrallyireland.com has been buzzing and is the place to check for Rally updates and contact information."

    The base for the Hotel on the mid-June week-end, will be once again Letterkenny's Mount Errigal Hotel, running from Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd June 2003.
    Entries are flooding on from the Irish competitors at a high rate, and the organisers have been dealing with enquiries from as far as Mid America.

    Secretary for the event Cynthia Fuery said that 'things are hectic at the moment,' with the level of response to the regulations publication earlier this month.

    Demand for the regulations has been so high that the webmaster and Technical manager for the 2003 Shell Donegal, Tom Higgins, said there was a 'twenty minute lockout last week, after download demand exceed the server capacity'.

    'A quick upgrade to the server data bus transfer cured the problem, and everything is back on-line now.'

    Regulations and Entry Form available to download from www.donegalmotorclub.com


    Declan McCay, Clerk of the Course for the 2003 Shell Donegal International Rally launched the 2003 event today and pointed to developments planned both for this year and the future.

    "The events of last year have caused us all to rethink the Rally, and Irish Motorsport generally has had to take a radical look at safety. We have chosen a very different, more compact route for the 2003 Rally over previous years with a view to ensuring spectator safety and providing competitors with a real challenge."

    "Some classic stages, not used for some years, will feature in 2003. This means that visiting competitors need not fear local knowledge. Donegal has always been seen as a real driver?s rally and we aim to keep it that way."

    "Shell, Donegal Oil Ltd, and Inishowen Oil Ltd are once again our main sponsors, but it bears saying that their support after the tragedy of last year, and in the planning for 2003. has been exceptional. This is the longest running sponsorship of its kind anywhere in Ireland and is very much appreciated by the Donegal Motor Club."

    "Leg 1 of the Rally will comprise 3 stages located between Letterkenny and Inishowen tackled twice on Friday 20th June. located between Letterkenny and Inishowen. It will start in Letterkenny at 12 noon, returning after 4 p.m.

    "Leg two starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday and will be based in Milford, with servicing at Milford Mart. Two stages will run twice in the morning and then three stages will be repeated in the afternoon. They have all been laid out with a view to minimising spectator movement."

    "Leg three kicks off at 11 a.m. with service will be based in the Downings area. There will be three challenging stages run twice. The first car is scheduled to return to the Mount Errigal Hotel finish ramp in Letterkenny after 4 p.m."

    "The Shell Donegal International Rally 2003 follows a classic and challenging route. It goes without saying that safety will be our first consideration. Obviously, the tragedy in 2002 dominates our thinking, and will continue to do so for many years. If we feel that a stage cannot run safely then it won't be running. Spectators should be clear on this and heed the advice of the officials along the route."

    "There are a number of developments for this year to be announced in the coming weeks, many of which are geared to developing the Rally as an International event. Significant investments are being made by the Motor Club to equip the Rally at World Championship standard. That is where we are headed."

    The base for the Hotel on the mid-June week-end, will be once again Letterkenny's Mount Errigal Hotel, running from Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd June 2003.


    The weekend of June 20th – 22nd is set for the Shell Donegal International Rally, Ireland. The headquarters for the Rally will be at the traditional base of the Mount Errigal Hotel in Letterkenny, and local tourism, business and rally supporters eagerly await the return of the biggest tourist event in the region.

    The new Clerk of the Course for 2003 is Declan McCay, who takes over from Tom Higgins. Tom remains heavily involved with the running of the Rally and is developing the complex technical support it relies on. Together with the legendary Motor Club “boot room”, the Rally has a deep pool of experience to draw upon.

    “The events of the past two years have affected the way we approach rallying in Ireland. Safety is always and remains our first priority. We have looked closely at the management of the event from a competitor and spectator viewpoint. To that end it will not be as easy to move between stages as in the past, but we hope to ensure that spectating will be easier and safer as a result,” said Mr. McCay “Motorsport Ireland have devised new rules about competitors who arrive at an accident and these will assist also.”

    “The management of the Rally has been revamped by the Motor Club, both to take account of the scale of operation it has become, but also to allow it to grow. It is already the biggest tourist event in the northern half of Ireland but has the potential to achieve World status, with all the benefits that will bring. With this in mind we are working with the relevant authorities in the region, and I have to say that they have been very supportive.”

    “With that in mind, the Donegal Motor Club has already begun an investment programme that will shortly make it self sufficient in state of the art technical facilities. The Motor Club members, with grant aid support, have already acquired the necessary computer hardware and this will soon be matched in the areas of timing and communication systems. It doesn’t come cheap, but it also improves safety and you can’t put a price on that.”

    In a major development, the timing of the Rally has been altered substantially. It will now conclude earlier on each day, particularly on Sunday 21st June.

    “We feel that the Rally has lost out simply due to our finish time creating very tight deadlines, especially on the Sunday. The media, local and national, have always been very good to us and we want to work with them in achieving better coverage. A further benefit will be that there will more time to socialise on Friday and Saturday. We hope everyone can cope!

    Mr. McCay said there would be further announcements in the coming weeks regarding the Shell Donegal International Rally. “We have a few exciting projects in the pipeline and hope very much to have them in place for 2003. We need to push things ahead and I have been heartened by the number of people coming forward with new ideas, and offers of help. Competitors and visitors alike can look forward to a memorable weekend.

    “The tragedy of 2002 affected everyone associated with the Rally, and with Irish Motorsport. The effects will never leave us and we have taken it into account in planning the route for 2003. No one should doubt our determination to see that the 2003 event passes off safely and successfully. I’d appeal for everyone with Motorsport at heart to work with us in this aim.”

    Press Release 2

    Irish Shell have again been confirmed as the main sponsor for the 2003 Donegal International Rally, based in Co. Donegal, Letterkenny, Ireland. Announcing the news, the Clerk of the Course, Declan Mc Cay, said he was pleased that Shell had once again become involved with such a top high profile Irish Sporting event for the 2003 year.

    Declan, was keen to highlight the long association Shell had with the event, and local associates sponsors, Letterkenny based Donegal Oil, and Carndonagh based Inishowen Oil.

    “Both these companies represent a long established link with Irish fuel products and the tradition of MotorSport here in the County of Donegal.

    The base for the Hotel on the mid-June week-end, will be once again Letterkenny’s Mount Errigal Hotel. The event has been planned to run from Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd June 2003.

    Press Release 1

    Declan Mc Cay has been announced as Clerk of the Course for the 2003 Donegal Rally. Declan has been an integral part of the world famous Donegal Motor Club organisation since 1978, and involved with the Rally in almost every capacity since that time. Since acting as Secretary for the Rally, in the early 1980’s, he has taken on many other official roles, both in the Donegal organisation and other Motor Club’s in the North West. He has become a Speed and Hillclimb Clerk of the Course specialist, both for MotorSport Ireland and London based Motor Sport Association.

    Once again, Irish Shell, Donegal Oil and Inishowen Oil are confirmed as the title sponsors of the Rally that will be based at Letterkenny’s Mount Errigal Hotel. It will run from the 20th – 22nd June 2003.

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