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Eugene Donnelly will head to this weekend’s Rally of the Lakes (5th/6th May) in the Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing i20 R5 with renewed confidence as he tackles the second round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship in Killarney.

Having successfully put the brand new Hyundai into the top ten of the West Cork and Easter Stages, Donnelly and co-driver Mark Kane are looking to the two-day classic event in a bid to further develop the car and MRF Tyres for Irish soil.

The five-time Irish Tarmac Championship title holder had been away from the series for over two years, but returned in 2018 with a new challenge as he embarks on a joint Hyundai and MRF Tyres project to adapt the Philip Case Rally Sport prepared Hyundai for the unique roads in the series.

The latest-spec machine would have a busy fortnight, as four-time British Rally Champion Keith Cronin used the i20 to kick start his campaign at the opening round of the 2018 in Carlisle last weekend, finishing third in the process on his Hyundai debut.

A super-quick transformation by the PCRS squad has seen the Hyundai returned from gravel to tarmac spec this week, just in time for Donnelly to complete a pre-event test ahead of the trip to Killarney.

Donnelly has finished ninth overall on both events so far this season but he openly admits that his lack of experience of the new-generation R5 machines would rule him out of the fight for overall victory. But the Magherafelt man has been enjoying the quest for an optimum set up on the i20 and working closely with the team to enhance the car.

“It’s been an exciting time for everyone and we always knew this would be a long term plan so the results have been right on target” says Donnelly. “It’s been hard to adapt my driving style from years in a World Rally Car to the latest generation R5 but its becoming much more natural now”.

“It’s taken a while to get used to the brakes and how to best use the power but the fact that our stage times are progressing with each passing stage is very encouraging. We are doing lots of work with the car behind the scenes to dial it in better for the Irish roads as there is very little development for our surface. The tyres are constantly evolving too so we are looking at the bigger picture with every passing event”.

The 2003 event winner and three time runner-up is not expecting to repeat his podium results this weekend but is seeking more pace from the i20 and himself.

“Look; the pace at the front of the ITRC is very impressive and we will just be doing what we have done all season and that is to do our own thing. We need to concentrate on getting everything to come together at once; the package is there already we just need to harness it all. A strong finish and more points is a must and anything else is a bonus”.

The Rally of the Lakes offers over 120km of special stages spread across 16 stages with eight on each day.

Donnelly is supported by Divers Hyundai, MRF Tyres, Sligo Pallets, PPP Group, Midland Tyre Services, McPartland Group, Philip Case Rally Sport, Protune Ireland, CBM Signs and the CFM Group.

Image credit Cian Don photography

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