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Five-time Irish Tarmac Champion Eugene Donnelly secured another solid performance in the series last weekend as he took his Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing i20 R5 to seventh overall at the Rally of the Lakes in Killarney (5th/6th May).

Along with co-driver Mark Kane, Donnelly continued to develop the MRF Tyres-shod Hyundai for the Irish lanes, further adding to their ninth overall on the West Cork and Easter Stages earlier in the season. Their result was the highest finish for the i20 this season and was bolstered by a top three stage time over the 13th stage of the event.

Just days before hand, four-time British Rally Champion Keith Cronin used the Hyundai at the opening round of the series in the Kielder forest and it would be a race against time for the Philip Case Rally Sport team to return the car to asphalt spec for Donnelly.

The Magherafelt driver had been away from the Irish championship for over two years and despite being a previous winner of the event, he would head to Killarney in a bid to find more pace and additional data for the Hyundai i20 as part of a three year plan for the Korean built machine.

Donnelly admits “podium positions are not on the radar at the moment”, but would look to make further inroads on the gap to the leaders as he becomes more familiar with the R5 machinery.

Sixteen stages and over 120km of special stage action would lie ahead over the two-day event but it would be a slow start for Donnelly who suffered from a misfire over the opening loop on Saturday morning. This left him languishing down in 10th spot until the issue could be rectified at service.

The remainder of the opening leg was left playing catch up and Donnelly would continue to adapt the set up and tyre choice to the widely acclaimed set of stages including Molls Gap, Healey’s Pass and Ardgroom. As the miles passed, the pace increased and the times tumbled, ending the day in a confidence boosting seventh overall.

An early start on day two didn’t affect Donnelly, as a new tyre choice and set up transformed the i20 and the gap to the top six would begin to narrow. A broken rim didn’t hamper progress to any significant degree as the stage times became more impressive. The reward for his perseverance was third quickest time on the 13th stage as he continued to get to grips with the car.

Crossing the finish ramp in Killarney on Sunday evening, Donnelly was happy with his best result of the season so far.

“It certainly was a bit of a rocky start to be honest so to be seventh after some of the toughest stages on the calendar is really pleasing for us as we continue to develop the car for Irish soil” he says.

“The roads down here definitely throw up some unique challenges and despite my previous experience on these lanes I`m still learning all the time, especially as it’s the first time here in the Hyundai. The encouraging thing is that we are getting quicker with each passing event and we are heading in the right direction with the car and that’s really important for me and the team. We are working really hard to get the right set up in the car and getting the tyres to work, so that third quickest time is a real turning point for us. It shows the pace is there and we just need to carry that over to Donegal from the off now”.

The next round of the series, the Donegal International Rally takes place from 15th-17th June.

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 credits Cian Don photography

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