Sam Moffett believes retaining Donegal International Rally title would rank among his greatest achievements

Sam Moffett believes that if he can successfully defend his Donegal International Rally crown this weekend, it would rank as one of his single biggest achievements since taking up the sport.

Ased out of Letterkenny, and promoted by Donegal Motor Club, Moffett is the number one seed in his Ford Fiesta World Rally Car for the three-day event which starts this morning.

The ex-Irish Tarmac Champion scored his first Donegal win in 2013 and repeated the feat in 2019 — the last time the meeting was held before the Covid pandemic struck. Moffett’s second victory was overshadowed by the shock death of fellow competitor Manus Kelly, however, with organizers curtailing that rally and canceling the traditional finish ramp ceremony. In tribute to him, the top-placed crew will receive the Manus Kelly Memorial Trophy on Sunday.

“If I can make it a third Donegal victory under the circumstances this week, then it would be extra special for me,” said Moffett. “Your first win there is always special, but to then go wheel-to-wheel with a World Rally Championship driver in Craig Breen in 2019 and beat him, that was a great feeling too.

“But it didn’t end the way any of us would have wanted, so it was hard for me to say ‘job finished’. So, if I cross the finish ramp this time in first place and collect the trophy in Manus’ memory, that would take some beating. It is not going to be easy but I have the motivation to go and do it.”

A who’s who of R5 and Rally2 drivers have entered round five of the Irish Tarmac Championship, with their preparations steadily building since early January. Nearly 30 such cars will take to the start-line, including Moffett’s brother Josh — the Championship leader — Circuit of Ireland Rally winner Alastair Fisher and Rally of the Lakes victor Callum Devine.

“This time around it is going to be harder for me, I need things to go in my favour,” added Moffett. “I’m going there confident but I’m also realistic — I know that I will have a fight on my hands against Callum, Alastair, Josh, Meirion [Evans] and Matt [Edwards]. Since 2019, I have only been out in the Fiesta once, so I don’t have a lot of seat time and that counts for a lot in situations like these.”

For that reason, Moffett will adopt a different mindset for Donegal. Played out over 20 stages totaling the best part of 200 miles, it ranks as one of the biggest challenges in Europe.

And despite rolling up in a more powerful World Rally Car, the Monaghan man reckons it won’t hand him the advantage many fans expect.

“People will say the odds are much better in a World Car and that would be the case if I was competing regularly and had the seat time,” he explained. “The truth is the modern R5 cars that Josh and others will be driving, they aren’t that far away from a World Car in terms of their braking performance and how they handle. There will be stages that suit my car better, so I will have to play a smart game, pick my battles and make the most of the opportunities when they come along. But whatever happens, I intend to give a hundred and ten per cent commitment.

“If I win Donegal, it would rank as one of my biggest achievements, definitely. It would also be the biggest of my Donegal wins. It has been a good rally to me, so I hope that continues.”

Top 10 Seeds: 1 Sam Moffett/Keith Moriarty (Ford Fiesta WRC); 2 Callum Devine/Noel O’Sullivan (VW Polo GTI R5); 3 Josh Moffett/Andy Hayes (Hyundai I20 R5); 4 Alastair Fisher/Gordon Noble (VW Polo GTI R5); 5 Matt Edwards/David Moynihan (Citroën C3 Rally2); 6 Cathan McCourt/Liam Moynihan (Citroën C3 Rally2); 7 Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson (VW Polo GTI R5); 8 Declan Boyle/James O’Reilly (Ford Fiesta WRC); 9 Garry Jennings/Rory Kennedy (Ford Fiesta R5); 10 Jonathan Greer/Dai Roberts (Citroen C3 Rally2).

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