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2013 Pirelli UK Star Driver – Mark Donnelly

The annual Pirelli UK Star Driver competition was held in Wales last month where Northern Ireland’s Mark Donnelly was announced as the winner of a fully-paid drive in the 2013 British Rally Championship courtesy of Pirelli.

Beating off stiff competition from six other drivers who were all battling it out for one of the biggest prizes in UK motorsport, Donnelly impressed a panel of four judges with his maturity, technical know-how, media awareness and raw talent behind the wheel.

From Omagh in Co. Tyrone, 21-year-old Donnelly made an impression in last year’s British Rally Championship after taking the spoils on the series’ opening round, Rallye Sunseeker. Donnelly’s round one victory meant he was automatically nominated to take part in Pirelli’s annual shootout competition.

We caught up with Donnelly to find out a little bit more about Pirelli’s latest protégé…

Congratulations on being crowned the new Pirelli Star Driver, Mark!  How does it feel to have won the shootout?

MD: “It feels amazing to have won such a prestigious prize. It is a fantastic opportunity to boost my rallying career and to help me move up to the next level of rallying. Last year was quite a difficult year for me so to end the season winning the Pirelli shootout was the best result I could ask for going into 2013. I really hope to make the most of this opportunity and hopefully repay Pirelli and Citroen with a successful year.”

What did you find hardest about the two-day competition?

MD: “The most difficult task from the two-day shootout was the driving by a long way. The conditions were very tricky with ice and some snow so it made driving very difficult, especially as I was not completely familiar with the car. It was difficult to judge how hard to push in those conditions because putting the car off the road resulted in an immediate exclusion from the competition. I tried to drive fast and smooth and make no mistakes but as the times were not published, the other drivers and I were left guessing about how well we had performed.”

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and also your rallying history?

MD: “I began my motorsport career when I was 14 at a closed circuit venue in a Vauxhall Nova 1200. I won my championship in my first year and then progressed into a Peugeot 106 Cup car when I was 16. Once I obtained my rally licence at 17 my rallying career started in a Ford Fiesta ST. I competed in the Irish Fiesta Sporting Trophy in 2009 and finished second. The following year (2010) I drove a Citroen C2 R2 Max in the Citroen Racing Trophy UK and finished second again, just missing out on the top spot at the final round.

“In 2011/2012 I drove a Renault Clio R3 in the British Rally Championship and also numerous IRC rallies with an overall win and also top two-wheel-drive results. In 2012, I was supported by the MSA Team UK programme, which aims to help develop young drivers in motorsport. I will also be a member of the Team UK programme in 2013.

“I also recently graduated from The University of Ulster in Management and Leadership Development and I now work for our family business which is an electrical contracting company.”

Who is your motorsport idol and why?

MD: “It has to be Colin McRae, purely because of his flamboyant driving style and self confidence. He was a huge inspiration for any young driver in the sport.”

What have been your best and worst moments in rallying so far?

MD: “There is no doubt that the best moment has been winning the Pirelli Star Driver shootout. It is something that I had only dreamed about and to win felt fantastic. It is the highlight of my career so far and I am looking forward to making the most of this opportunity.

“The worst moment was the tragic death of Gareth Roberts last year. I knew Gareth quite well and I knew how passionate and professional he was as a co-driver, so this tragedy was a very low moment in the world of rallying. It is inspirational to see how Craig, Dai and Gareth’s family have continued to support rallying and remember Gareth through ‘The Gareth Roberts Memorial Fund’ and other initiatives.”

Beside competing on this year’s British Rally Championship courtesy of Pirelli, do you have any other plans for 2013?

“I am planning to compete in the French championship as I feel this will give me vital experience and increase my pace on asphalt. I hope to drive a Citroen DS3 in this championship too and I think that this will give me a better understanding of the car and also the set-up that I need for each rally. I have not completely confirmed those plans yet but it is a championship that I am very interested in.”

What is your favourite tyre from the Pirelli range and why?

MD: “I think it would have to be the Pirelli K6 gravel tyre. The K6 allows for excellent precision steering and it also gives me a lot of confidence under braking. The tyre itself is very strong with a tough sidewall and this enables me as a driver to take cuts without causing damage to the tyre.”

And finally, where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

MD: “I would hope to see myself working with a professional team at the top level of the sport. As more manufacturers are becoming interested in the WRC, I think that there will be more chances for younger drivers and if I can make the most out of every opportunity I get, I hope that this will help me to get there. Winning the Pirelli Star Driver competition has been a huge opportunity for me – I am eager to work hard to maximise this and I hope that this can open more doors for me in the future.”

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