There was early disappointment for one of the favourites for this year’s Ulster Rally on the opening stage in Fermanagh on Friday night.
Top seed Garry Jennings, the Kesh driver, found a lack of performance with his GO Subaru World Rally Car and he dropped some 30 seconds to the Ford Focus WRC of Donagh Kelly who was seeking to put the seal on the Clonakilty Black Pudding Tarmac Rally Championship and he was to go on and set the fastest time.
Later Jenning’s lack of power was discovered to be down to a turbo problem.
Another driver in trouble on the opening stage Glengormley’s Derek McGarrity, his Subaru WRC was having an overheating problem. He was to record the seventh fastest time.
Kelly’s main challenger for the Tarmac crown was Sam Moffett, but on the eve of the event along with his brother Josh they both withdrew their entries due to a family illness.
One driver delighted with his performance on stage one was Desi Henry, he finished second to Kelly in his immaculate Skoda Fabia S2000 with Stephen Wright next up at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta R5.
This type of car is expected to be the car that will fight for top honours next season in the Tarmac Championship.
Another R5, a Citroen DS3 with Jonny Greer at the driving wheel slotted into fourth with the glorious sounding MINI WRC of Derek McGeehan occupying the fifth slot and Frank Kelly completed the top six with his Ford Escort Mk 11.
After the Mallabeny Hill stage the action moved on to Knockmany where Jennings set the fastest time, later to incur a penalty which dropped him down the order, yet another disappointment in his pursuit of scoring a third consecutive win on what is his home event.
Jenning’s co-driver Rory Kennedy was adamant that no penalty should have been applied, just another twist to an incident packed event.
This left Kelly once again at the top of the sheets with Wright recording the third best time ahead of Henry who was really enjoying the little Skoda.
McGeehan and Greer were next up and amidst all of the modern day rallying machinery Kelly was giving it all with his Blue Escort and setting the seventh fastest time.
After Knockmany the cars headed back to St Angelo Airfield on the outskirts of Enniskillen for their first service and Kelly with a cushion of 12.6 seconds over Henry, his bid for the Tarmac title was really falling into place.
One driver delighted to be back on Irish Tarmac, Long Beach resident John Coyne who brought the memories flooding back with his Talbot Sunbeam in sixty seventh place and fourth in his class.
A late afternoon start for the rally from stately Castle Coole meant that the two final stages of the day, a return to Mallabeny Hill and Knockmany would be in the dark.
On Saturday the remaining eight stages will again feature four stages tackled twice, Sloughan Glen, Carran Bridge, Topped Mountain and Widow Magee.
Joining in the high speed action the Juniors and this is an important event for them as the Ulster Rally is a counter in the Clonakilty Black Pudding Junior Rally Championship.
However, all eyes will be on the unfolding battle up front and if Jennings fight back to challenge Kelly or could a Skoda take the top spot on the podium when the rally finishes back at St Angelo Airfield at around 5.30pm on Saturday evening.