The rally has been running for 41 years this year and apart from it being cancelled in 2001 because of the foot and mouth epidemic,, and a couple of years when the rally was cancelled after it started because of fatalities during the course of it, it has run every year since it's inception in 1972.
The rally weekend is always held in mid-June and it attracts many thousands of people to County Donegal who in turn bring millions of euro to the economy here. It begins and ends in Letterkenny with the opening ceremony on the Thursday night and the closing ceremony on the Sunday night.
I am not really a rally fan but we decided to enjoy a day at it yesterday to take photographs and see what all the buzz is about. We went to the Glen stage as there are great vantage points there to see the cars negotiate a small village at speed (and there is no standing out in fields freezing in the rain as is the way with many other stages!).
Unusually for rally weekend, it poured down! Not great for the spectators nor for the rally drivers either. However, the wet roads gave some great photo opportunities from reflections to the splash coming off the speeding wheels to a few unfortunate drivers who slid and ended up facing the wrong way.
We were lucky in that we had access to a house in the village so I could get many photographs from the windows in the house and also shelter from the rain when it got really bad. My husband chose to suffer the rain and got himself a prime position on an outside wall which faces up the hill that the speeding cars roar down into the village.
One thing that strikes you about the rally is the noise! It is almost deafening when the cars roar past at massive speed and then many of them backfire too. I spent a lot of the day jumping in fright with these loud bangs I can tell you.
As is usual for me, I got chatting to people. A group of marshals who had travelled the six and a half hour journey from County Cork were my "teachers" for the rally filling me on on so many things I had no idea about about rallying. They are so dedicated to rallying and go all over the country assisting organisers of rallies. The marshals are a vital element to any rally with their unenviable task of keeping people off the road among many things. People can act so crazy and decide to cross over to see if they can get a better vantage point never thinking that they could be killed by one of these cars should they be unlucky enough to maybe stumble as they cross the road. Indeed a number of years back a young man from Strabane did exactly that and was killed outright by a rally car who couldn't stop in time to avoid the impact.
Another thing that strikes you is the smell! As the cars whiz by a fug of toxic fumes engulf you ~ my lady marshal, when I commented on this, informed me that it is the high octane fuel they use that causes the strong smell. It is vile!
After a while, and even though I am still not a rally fan, I could kind of get why people do enjoy it. It is very exciting watching the cars roar by and also rather scary thinking of the consequences should one of them lose control of their vehicle. Or the thought of an animal suddenly appearing on the road ~ which is exactly what happened at one stage. A cat wandered out into the road just as the whistles announcing the arrival of a car sounded! I was terrified but the crowd, as one, started yelling at the startled cat and she ran at great speed, not to avoid a car but rather the noise of the crowd. And not a moment too soon as the car whizzed by seconds after the cat had taken cover in a field.
I enjoyed taking the photographs of the cars for a while but then got a little bored ~ well after a couple of hours of it a non rally person has every right to get bored I reckon! And my boredom lead me to look for other things to photograph and I started taking photos of the photographers taking photos of the rally ~ much more fun. The media lot were great craic during the course of the rally as we chatted between cars about cameras and photography and so on ~ they laughed at me taking pics of them taking pics, not understanding that my limited attention span of taking photos of cars had been reached and I had to find something else to amuse me. Well, it passed the time.
(Click on any of the photographs to enlarge and scroll down this page for lots of photos from the rally).
Given the dreadful weather with the rain pouring down, it was inevitable that there would be some "Oops!" moments. Thankfully none were particularly serious and really just ended up amusing the soaking spectators. Here are some of those "Oops!" moments on the Glen stage of the rally where cars skidded on the sheets of water on the road after taking the very sharp bend made more difficult by the bales that made the drivers swerve around them and then have to straighten up and head for "the bends" above Glen ~ and not facing in other directions as these unfortunates did!
(Click on any photo to enlarge).
I learned from my trusty marshal friends that the cars are set off at the start of each stage one minute apart and should one car cover that stage quicker than the car in front and catch up on him or her, the etiquette is that the car wanting to overtake simply toots his horn and the car in front allows it to pass. Unfortunately two cars caught up with the car in front coming down High Glen heading into the edge of the village. This resulted in a block of three cars hurtling into Glen and a sharp turn left on the very wet roads yesterday.
When cars are approaching the village marshals blow whistles to let people know a car is approaching and from the side of the road I heard the whistle blow a lot and then car horns being blown and I have to say, it gave me a bit of a fright knowing that something possibly dangerous was about to happen. I took cover and awaited the bang, which happened seconds later.
According to one of the marshals who saw it happen, the car in front (the maroon coloured one) panicked and hit his brakes and lost control and ended up mounting the pavement and hitting the wall in front of him. My husband was propped up on steps behind the wall along with another photographer friend and he told me that the thump shook the whole wall! I would have fainted! Luckily the only damage that seemed to be done to the car that hit the wall was a ding on the right wing and he just carried on with the stage (once he got straightened up of course).
(Click on photos to enlarge).
I really was on a total learning curve on Sunday and my lovely steward and marshal friends were only too willing to fill this novice in with their knowledge of all things rally.
I had noticed many of the cars had little panels on the side windows at the front of the cars (see photo on left here). I mentioned this to one of the stewards and she told me that inside the cars get very hot and they need to let air in to cool the interior down. Standard glass windows we have in ordinary cars are not advised as in the case of an accident they can cause even more damage to the driver/co-driver and so they are replaced with sheets of perspex into which small windows are cut to allow air in. Clever eh?
I am totally hopeless at identifying makes of cars unless the have obvious identities like, for instance, the Mercedes badge. One of the stewards and I were discussing the different cars in the rally and he knew lots about the different cars ~ most of which went over my head.
However, the "Historic" section started and when the first car roared through I said "ooo, Porsche, now that is a nice car". My friendly steward burst out laughing and said something along the lines of "You knew that make quick enough". But even I know what a Porsche looks like! There were two of them in it and they cut a fine shape whizzing through the wet roads of Glen and so I grabbed a few pictures of them together with some of the other vintage cars. I was even able to identify the Mini Cooper! This was because my dad told me he had had one when they first hit the market in the U.K. (although I wonder to this day how someone of over 6' managed to fit in a tiny Mini ~ I guess he was young and fancied the car de jour!). Another in the historic section brought me back too. There was a Cortina and I remember as a little girl my grandfather buying a brand new one for one of my aunts in nearby Carrigart. Not sure I am totally happy with only being able to identify cars from the "historic" section mind you!
(Click on any of the photos to enlarge).
The winner of the Donegal International Rally 2013 was Sammy Moffett in his Subaru WRC with co-driver James O'Reilly.
The totally dedicated headed back to the closing ceremony in Letterkenny after the rally ended. We headed back to Letterkenny too but not to the ceremony but home. We stopped off at one of the stores in Letterkenny to pick up something for dinner and as we drove to our house we noticed the queues of traffic lining up to get to the closing ceremony ~ they were about a mile long! Now that is dedication!
(Click on photos to enlarge).
A number of drivers have won the Donegal International Rally on more than one occasion topped by the most crowned winner of them all, Andrew Nesbitt who has won the rally a very impressive six times (1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2006).
1972, 1973 & 1974 Cahal Curley (Ireland); 1975 Achim Warmbold (Germany); 1976 & 1979 Brian Nelson (Ireland); 1978 Ari Vatanen (Finland); 1980 Jimmy McRae (Scotland); 1981 & 1982 John Lyons (Ireland); 1983 Vincent Bonner (Ireland); 1984, 1985 & 1986 Billy Coleman (Ireland); 1986, 1987, 1992, 1993 & 1995 Bertie Fisher (N.I.); 1988 Mark Lovell (U.K.); 1989 David Llewellin (U.K.); 1990 & 1997 Austin McHale (Ireland); 1991 & 1999 James Cullen (Ireland); 1994 Stephan Finlay (U.K.); 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003 & 2006 Andrew Nesbitt (N.I.); 2004, 2005 & 2008 Eugene Donnelly (Ireland); 2007 Sebastien Loeb (France); 2009 & 2010 Gareth McHale (Ireland); 2011 Tim McNulty (Ireland); 2012 Garry Jennings (N.I.); 2013 Sammy Moffett (Ireland).
Click the photo to run the slide show of photos from the rally.