First-timer Cathcart takes centre stage at Lakeland Rally
The winning margin may have been just 12 seconds but Richard Cathcart dominated the Lakeland Stages Rally to become the fifth different winner of a Northern Ireland championship round this season.
In his home forests of Fermanagh, Cathcart led from start to finish despite it being his first appearance in a WRC Subaru Impreza and his first rally since he walked away from the UK Mitsubishi Evo Challenge series earlier in the summer.
It was a series he had every chance of winning but he angrily quit when the expected prize of a works drive with Mitsubishi was withdrawn in mid-season.
On Saturday, Cathcart made the switch from a production Mitsubishi to a McKinstry Motorsport Subaru S9 and, with just a 20-mile test run earlier in the week, set fastest times on seven out of the eight stages to see off the challenge of Sean Devine in his S11 Subaru.
The margin would have been greater but for the fact that Cathcart and Devine beat the minimum time on each of the two runs through the rally's longest stage - indeed Cathcart was 35 seconds quicker than the bogey second time around, Devine 32.
But Cathcart was lucky, too. Having dropped three seconds to Devine on stage five, co-driver Martin Brady made a routine check of the tyres as they waited to start stage six and discovered one had been cut and was deflating.
"The tyre would have been flat within a mile of the start - and it was the longest stage," said Brady. "It was a lucky break.
"Other than that we never had a moment's concern. Richard made the step up like he's been driving WRC cars all his life. He was on it from the startand stayed completely in control."
Devine bounced back from his huge accident on the previous round, the Dogleap Rally, to take a solid second and has the consolation of re-taking the lead in the Northern Ireland series following the demise of Connor McCloskey.
The young Kilrea driver's Ford Focus stopped on the fourth stage with an electronic fault in the fuel system when he was holding a close third place.
Reigning NI champion Glenn Allen finished third in his Toyota and is now one point behind Devine in the title chase.
Fourth went to the Group N winning Mitsubishi of Neil McCance with Donagh Kelly fifth and Raymond Johnston sixth, also in production Mitsubishis. Frank Kelly won the two-wheel-drive category in seventh in his Ford Escort.
Fisher Engineering Lakeland Stages Rally: 1 Richard Cathcart and Martin Brady (Subaru Impreza) 40 mins 06 secs; 2 Sean Devine and Damien Duffin (Subaru Impreza) 40.18; 3 Glenn Allen and Damien Connolly (Toyota Corolla) 40.37; 4 Neil McCance and Sean Ferris (Mitsubishi Lancer N) 41.22; 5 Donagh Kelly and Kevin Flanagan (Mitsubishi Lancer N) 41.49; 6 Raymond Johnston and Richard Bell (Mitsubishi Lancer N) 41.50; 7 Frank Kelly and Liam Brennan (Ford Escort) 42.08; 8 Johnny McKenna and Siobhan Cassidy (Mitsubishi Lancer N) 42.11; 9 Colin Britton and Arthur Kierans (Mitsubishi Lancer N) 42.21; 10 Howard Clarke and Jason Harron (Mitsubishi Lancer N) 43.08.