McKinstry scores maximum points at Circuit of Ireland

(Image: Esler Crawford) The opening day of this year’s Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland Rally, in association with UTV Drive, was also a counting round of the Hankook MSA Northern Ireland Stage Rally Championship, and series leader Kenny McKinstry locked horns with Derek McGarrity throughout all 10 stages.

McGarrity had upgraded his Group N Evo for an Impreza WRC, giving him the extra power he needed to challenge for overall honours, although it also brought him some problems.

A few days before the rally, engine problems forced him to borrow an engine from Niall Maguire. The replacement was only fitted to his car the day before the rally, leaving the Glengormley driver no time to test.

That failed to dent his confidence, and McGarrity immediately moved into a 2.9 second lead after the opening stage. Then Kenny McKinstry pulled time back on the following test, leaving just one-tenth of a second between the two crews.

A titanic battle between two titans of Irish rallying was developing, and the fans were in for a real Easter treat!

McKinstry, who had Kenny Hull calling the pace notes, was fastest again on stage three to move into a seven second lead, but then the tide started to turn in McGarrity’s favour. He was fastest on stages four, five and six to turn that seven second deficit into a seven second advantage, as he accelerated to the top of the order.

McGarrity edged further ahead at the Lisburn Power Stage, which was packed with an estimated 15,000 spectators, but then McKinstry started to fight back. Over the two runs through the Banbridge North stage, he reduced McGarrity’s lead to just 2.7 seconds.

With one stage remaining before the end of the opening leg, it was McKinstry’s last opportunity to claim maximum points for the Hankook N.I. Rally series. He pulled out all of the stops over the final nine-mile test to move to the top of the order, 1.6 seconds ahead of McGarrity!

While the battle for Circuit of Ireland Rally spoils was set to continue into the second day, the final Saturday stage times counted towards the third round of the Northern Ireland Championship. Kenny McKinstry and Kenny Hull had secured maximum points by the slenderest of margins, with Derek McGarrity and James McKee second overall.

Third placed Kevin Barrett and fourth placed Garry Jennings were not registered for the championship, so fifth placed Neil McCance secured nine championship points, winning the Sunoco Fuels Group N category in the process. They finished 13.1 seconds ahead of Donagh Kelly and Kevin Flanagan.

In the Hankook two-wheel-drive category, Drew Stewart was the highest placed registered competitor, finishing 15th overall. Michael Conlon claimed second placed championship points ahead of Fintan McGrady.

There was a tight tussle in the Montgomery Motorsport Historic category, with Dessie McCartney and Maurice Jellie clinging on to win by nine-tenths of a second from Andy Johnson and Jim McSherry.

And in round one of the Fiesta Sport Trophy Ireland, Stephen Baxter and Daragh Mullan won from Declan Leonard and Dermot McCafferty.

Round four of the Hankook MSA N.I. Rally Championship continues on 7 May with the C. Bradley Tour of the Sperrins Rally.


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