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Eugene Donnelly stormed to an overall fastest time on his way to a season-best result at last weekend’s Donegal International Rally, taking his Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing i20 R5 to 6th overall and 4th Irish Tarmac Championship contender home in difficult conditions throughout the three-day event (15-17 June).

Donnelly, who has returned to the championship after a break of several years, has enjoyed a one hundred per cent finishing record so far this season as he continues to develop the Hyundai and MRF Tyres for the unique Irish soil. But his Donegal outing has seen a shift in the performance of the four-wheel-drive machine and the Maghera driver was delighted with the result.

Co-driven by Mark Kane, Donnelly has ensured the Hyundai project in association with Philip Case Rally Sport is continually moving forward and has visibly been able to improve his pace across each of the three events so far this season. A seventh overall on the Killarney Rally of the Lakes was a highlight prior to the weekend.

A string of top-three stages times against the mighty World Rally Cars in the opening half of the season has been an encouraging sign for the five-time Irish champion. His aim to close the gap on the leaders was well on track as he headed to one of the toughest and most daunting rounds on the calendar.

Twenty stages and around 290km of special stage action would lie ahead over the three days and it would be important to ensure the i20 could return to the finish ramp on Sunday evening intact. However, Donnelly would suffer a slower than normal start with Anti-lag issues before the opening test hampering progress on the opening loop. Once fixed, he could begin to find the rhythm which has ensured the successes so far this season.

A difficult opening day and a wrong tyre choice saw the Hyundai finishing in 12th overall after six tests, with work to do over the second leg. In typical fashion, the weather would play its part in the event and whilst those around him faltered, Donnelly used his wealth of experience to guide the Hyundai from 12th overnight, to sixth at the end of day two. Despite more inclement weather from the Atlantic on Sunday, Donnelly fired in a succession of impressive times to secure a season-best sixth spot.

“Well Donegal certainly lived up to its reputation as one of the trickiest on the calendar but I`m delighted to have given the Hyundai i20 its highest ITRC position so far this season, it’s been a real leap forward this weekend,” said Donnelly.

“The icing on the cake was giving the MRF Tyre is first fastest time on Irish soil and it really feels like a win for us. You know its always been a long-term project and to see the progression we are making event by event is so very encouraging. We have a great team behind us and the support from Hyundai Customer Racing and Andrew John has been fantastic ever since we got this off the ground.”

Donnelly started the year without an eye on podium results, but as he edges nearer with each passing rally, he remains optimistic about the future.

“There is much more to come from the car, the tyre and of course Mark and I so the Ulster Rally is one I’m really looking forward to. We have Keith Cronin out in Ypres now in the sister car to this one and we are really focusing on that. It’s a really exciting time for the project and it’s still very much in its infancy. Its exciting times for us all.”

The series now heads into its summer break before it reconvenes in August for the Ulster Rally.

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.

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