Josh Moffett and Stephen Thornton have won the McKelvey Asbestos Bushwhacker Rally but Derek McGarrity and Paddy Robinson have been provisionally crowned as the 2018 McGrady Insurance MSA Northern Ireland Stage Rally Champions - and for McGarrity it’s a record eighth title!
Despite retiring from today’s Omagh Motor Club organised event with an oil leak, McGarrity’s two main rivals - Desi Henry and Alan Carmichael - still had to win the rally to stay in the title hunt.
However, Henry hit trouble while fighting for the lead and eventually finished third while Carmichael couldn’t quite find the pace of the leading crews and finished just outside the top 10.
That means that McGarrity can’t be caught in the points tables regardless of what happens at the final round of the series in October.
“It’s good to get the job done,” McGarrity said.
“But I would like to have finished the rally!
“We could have kept topping up the oil but it was too risky. It could have caused a fire and I couldn’t risk losing such an expensive car.”
At the top of the rally leaderboard, Josh Moffett and Stephen Thornton secured their second consecutive NI Championship victory on the trot.
Their only drama happened on stage five when they spun and hit a wheel against “something hard” but the car was fixed in service and they romped home to another win.
“There was plenty of competition today,” a beaming Moffett said at the finish, “so it was all ‘go’ from the start. It’s great...we’re over the moon!”
Desi Henry and Liam Moynihan had been tussling with Moffett for the rally win but Henry had his own dramas when his gearshift lever came adrift on stage six. He lost more than 30 seconds but managed to fix the problem with a handful of cable ties. That dropped him down to seventh but he eventually recovered to third overall.
Also in the wars were Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan who had been second overall after four stages. Then their rally ended in a ditch after a reported ‘soft roll’ and although little damage was done, they were out of the event.
Coming through all the drama behind rally winner Moffett was the Ford Fiesta R5+ belonging to Vivian Hamill and Andrew Grennan. They secured the runner-up position after a solid day’s work that saw a brush with a chicane as the crew’s only drama.
Desi Henry eventually finished third after a tremendous recovery drive. He had been as low as seventh after his gearshift troubles but he managed to climb back up the order and nip ahead of Connor McCloskey on the final stage who “backed off” as he thought he had a puncture.
He lost a handful of seconds through that final test and dropped out of the podium but it was still an excellent drive for the Kilrea driver. He was only introduced to his navigator, Noel O’Sullivan, the day before the event, and he also had a scare when some deer jumped out in front of him!
“I didn’t know Noel 24 hours ago!” McCloskey laughed. “A family of deer appeared in front of us on one of the stages but luckily I was able to swerve toavoid them.”
Adrian Hetherington and Ronan O’Neill brought their Toyota Corolla WRC home on equal times with Cathan McCourt and Barry McNulty but it was McCourt who got the nod for fifth overall courtesy of his faster time through stage one. The Fiesta pilot was full of smiles at the finish as he recounted his “massive moment” when he was on two wheels at over 100mph!
Hetherington had to settle for sixth and was rueing a mistake he made at a chicane where he lost at least 15 seconds. Patrick and Stephen O’Brien secured seventh despite a heavy landing early in the day which hurt Patrick’s back. Scottish visitor, Jock Armstrong, was eighth along with co-driver Graham Henderson while Martin Cairns and Peter Ward fended off Niall Henry and Damien Duffin to claim ninth.
The tussle for the two-wheel drive crown was hot and heavy with David Crossen and Aileen Kelly taking the early lead in their Escort. It was nip and tuck between them and Paul Barrett but then it all went wrong for the Crossen crew. They put their Escort on its side and lost around one minute, putting them out of contention.
“The car got out of the ruts and then rolled onto its side,” Crossen explained. “After that, we just had to go out for a bit of fun.”
That left Barrett in the lead of the two-wheel drive category. He had a chicane bashing moment of his own but he rallied home with Gordon Noble to a commanding win.
“It’s a pity David rolled as we were having a good race,” said Barrett, who recently secured the British Historic Rally Championship title.
Shane McGirr and Liam McIntyre finished as runners-up while David Crossen and Aileen Kelly managed to regain the final podium position from Mickey Conlon and Ciaran McPhillips after a flat-out drive through the final test.
The overall McGrady Insurance NI Championship title has been secured but there are still plenty of class battles to be secured. The final round of the Championship takes competitors to Cookstown on 20 October for the Tyrone Stages Rally.
Bonus points are on offer so it’s certain to be another hotly contested event! More details are available from www.fb.com/nirallying and www.nirallychampionship.com.