by John Kenny

Five-time Irish Tarmac Rally champion Eugene Donnelly is coming out of retirement after striking a deal to contest the 2012 series in the new Mini Cooper.

The Derry driver will begin his campaign with the Safety Direct Galway International Rally on Sunday, 5 February.

Forty-five-year-old Donnelly, who was actually declared bankrupt in a Belfast court in 2010, has received the backing of an as yet unnamed sponsor to compete in the six-round Irish Tarmac Rally Championship (ITRC) this year.

He will compete in Galway in the new Mini Cooper World Rally Car which will be supplied by the McGeehan Motorsport Group in Derry. They have run cars for Donnelly in his previous five championship victories and this year.

The Mini Cooper was run by Ireland's Kris Meeke and Spaniard Dani Sordo in six rounds of the World Rally Championship last year and Donnelly's run in Galway will be the first time the car will see rally action in Ireland.

Donnelly will not have much time to get accustomed to his new machine as it only arrives in Ireland next Tuesday.

The ex-Dani Sordo car will make its Irish debut on the 2012 New Year's stages at Kirkistown in County Down with McGeehan Motorsport owner Derek McGeehan behind the wheel.

Donnelly himself will get a two-day test in the car before the first round of the series in the west of Ireland next month.