Leap of faith for Ulster Rally’s young guns
They are the ‘new order’ of the Irish Tarmac championship and they have the Todds Leap Ulster Rally in their sights.
Darren Gass, Garry Jennings and Daragh O’Riordan are the drivers dominating Ireland’s premier series this year, all winners as the season has progressed through Galway, the Circuit of Ireland, the Rally of the Lakes and Donegal.
Now they will attempt to continue the sequence in Ulster where only Derek McGarrity of the older guard stands in their way.
As recent Tarmac champions like Eugene Donnelly, Eamonn Boland, Tim McNulty — all past Ulster winners — and Gareth MacHale have faded from the scene, the younger brigade in their WRC Subarus have picked up the gauntlet.
Gass, a former British junior champion from Markethill, won in Galway and on the Circuit of Ireland to lead the series by eight points from Jennings, the reigning production champion from Kesh who scored his first outright victory on the Donegal International in June.
Southern contender O’Riordan made his breakthrough last season, winning close to home in Killarney and Cork to finish runner-up in the championship behind McNulty, and he won again in Killarney this year.
They have the momentum as they prepare for tomorrow’s lunch time start from Antrim where close to 150 crews divided into five separate divisions will roll over the ramp to begin a concentrated 25-hour battle which takes them up the north Antrim coast and, on Saturday, across towards the Sperrins.
At the front of it all will be the powerful WRC supercars of Gass and Co with the Subaru of 2010 winner McGarrity at the head of affairs. The two-time Tarmac champion may not be enjoying the best of seasons by his standards but the ‘young pretenders’ will be aware of the threat he poses, especially over some of his favourite stages like Tor Head and Glendun.
He was runner-up last year but now armed with McNulty’s S12 Subaru which beat him 12 months ago, McGarrity is eyeing up a repeat of his 2010 Ulster victory.
It would be foolish to bet against a five times Circuit of Ireland winner but maybe the time has come for another new name to added to the Ulster roll of honour.
My guess is Gass but it will be no surprise to see the flamboyant Jennings topping the leaderboard.
He dominated in Donegal for his first international victory, revelling in the experience, and remember, he won the separate British championship division, Rally NI, here last year in his production Mitsubishi.
It is restricted to two-wheel-drive cars this year with Ireland’s only two-time British champion Keith Cronin heading the line up, following directly behind the main Ulster International field. The multi-category event, which is based at Antrim’s Junction One shopping complex, also includes the National, Historic and Challenge rallies.