McGarrity Masterclass!

It was another Derek McGarrity masterclass today at the McGrady Insurance Bishopscourt Stages, round two of the Carryduff Forklift MSA N.I. Rally Championship, as the Glengormley pilot steered his Subaru Impreza WRC to the top of the podium to secure another impressive rally victory!

Navigated by Neil Doherty, the crew moved into the rally lead after stage four and stayed there until the finish of the rain-soaked event. Their winning margin was 16.2 seconds over the Evo 6 belonging to Jonny Leonard and Jackie Elliott, while Derek McGeehan and Darragh Mullen claimed third in their Corolla WRC.

Ballynahinch and District Motor Club had pulled out all of the stops to lay on a challenging event for more than 70 crews. Brand new stage layouts and a total of 14 stages were challenging enough, but the weather helped to add more drama to the mix as rain and wind pelted the County Down venue throughout the day.

After the opening stage, it was a surprised Kieron Graffin who found himself leading the rally from Trevor Ferguson, with Mark Massey completing a trio of Group N crews in third. The short 1.6 mile test certainly sprung a few surprises but Graffin held on to the lead after stage two, albeit by just seven-tenths of a second from Massey.

Crews returned to action after service and it was the third test that claimed its first major retirement of the day. Peadar Hurson and Damien Connolly had entered the stage hoping to improve on their position, only for a broken propshaft to call an end to their rally.

“It just broke as we were accelerating out of the hairpin,” Hurson rued. “We just had to pull over – that was that.”

“It’s a shame because we made some adjustments to the car in service and put more cuts in the tyres. We were hoping for better things but didn’t get the chance.”

While Hurson retired from the event, Mark Massey and James McKee emerged as the new rally leaders in their Group N spec Evo 9. Early leader Kieron Graffin had dropped out of the top 10 after an overshoot in the KG Motorsport Lancer. His problems were then compounded when he was awarded a maximum stage time for allegedly cutting the stage, despite “setting a slower time than my previous run”.

Graffin’s troubles left Massey at the top of the leaderboard ahead of a recovering Derek McGarrity and Neil Doherty. McGarrity was on a mission, and having been as low as ninth in the Garry Jennings car, he was climbing his way through the ranks.

One stage later, when Massey lost half a minute with a problem, McGarrity moved into the number one slot…and that was a position that he was never destined to relinquish.

McGarrity kept the pressure on throughout the event, although it wasn’t as dominant a display as we are accustomed to seeing from the Glengormley pilot. He managed to secure another six fastest times over the remaining 10 stages, eventually arriving home 16.2 seconds ahead of a hard-charging Jonny Leonard and Jackie Elliott.

Leonard put in a truly stunning drive aboard his Evo 6 Lancer. After promoting himself into third overall after stage four, he became embroiled in a battle for the runner-up spot with Derek McGeehan.

Only a handful of seconds separated the two crews throughout the day and it was only on the penultimate stage that Leonard managed to nip in front of his rival. He stayed there until the finish, claiming second overall on what is only his second event in the car.

Derek McGeehan and Darragh Mullen had to be content with third in their Corolla WRC on this occasion, while Kevin Barrett and Sean Mullally completed the top four in their Impreza WRC.

Kenny McKinstry and John McGaffin had looked set to take fifth in the Banbridge driver’s newly acquired S14 specification Impreza WRC, only for a problem during stage 13 to put them out of the running.

“I think the exhaust’s back box split and then the rear bumper started to melt,” McKinstry explained. “It filled the car with smoke so we had to pull over.”

“Before that happened, the car felt fantastic,” he added. “On the fast stages we were on the pace but on the tighter sections, I found it difficult to get to grips with left-hand drive.”

Kenny McKinstry was not alone in his woes during the closing stages. George Robinson and Tommy Speers, who had held seventh overall, were forced to pull over during the final test when their Evo encountered some mechanical troubles.

Coming home in fifth, James Laverty and Francis Regan enjoyed another solid run to finish ahead of Mark Massey and James McKee, with early leaders Kieron Graffin and Paddy Robinson taking seventh in front of Trevor Ferguson and David McElroy.

Two-Wheel-Drive

In the two-wheel-drive category, Alan Smyth and Peter Thompson took a deserved win in their Citroen C2. The finished ninth overall in the process, less than four seconds ahead of Carryduff Forklift’s Barry Greer and Damien Duffin, with Andrew Wilson Christopher McKeown third in their Starlet.

There were some dramas further down the field. On stage 11, James Kennedy’s Escort had a coming together with Allan Mackay’s Anglia, sending both crews into retirement with two very sorry looking cars.

Junior 1000

The event also hosted round three of the McGrady Insurance Junior 1000 Rally Challenge. Seven crews aged between 14 and 17 contested a total of 10 stages, with William Creighton and Andrew Bushe picking up the spoils in their Citroen C1. They finished 14.7 seconds ahead of Adam and Brian Bustard, with James Partridge and Billy Regan third.

Round 3 – Triton Showers Easter Stages

The attention now turns to round three of the Carryduff Forklift backed series. The Triton Showers Easter Stages Rally, a replacement event for the Circuit of Ireland, takes place on Saturday 30 March when competitors will tackle closed roads within County Down. For more details, log on to www.nirally.com.

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