'Longest day' lands Henry rally crown
It was just six stages and no more than 35 competitive miles in the north Antrim forests but Desi Henry said it was one of the "longest rallies of my life".
The RiverRidge Recycling Glens of Antrim Rally proved both a triumph and a trying experience for the new Irish national forestry champion who guided his R5 Skoda Fabia over the finish line ahead of the WRC Toyota Corolla of Adrian Hetherington with a healthy 25-second winning margin.
But for Henry and co-driver Liam Moynihan this rally was all about finishing and winning was an unexpected bonus. "I never set out to win the rally, just get to the end and get the points we needed to wrap up the championship," said the Portglenone builder.
"But it just fell into my lap and I'm absolutely delighted. Mind you, it felt like one of the longest rallies of my life and I was dreading anything going wrong at this late stage in the season."
In fact it all went right for Henry with the two favourites to win the rally, Sam and Josh Moffett, both going out. Sam went off the road on stage three, his R5 Ford Fiesta becoming beached on a bank, and then Josh, leading Henry by 10 seconds, was forced to retire later in the day when his Fiesta suffered a double puncture.
Henry stayed clear of Hetherington to record his third win of the series and become Irish champion for the first time. Gerard Lucey completed the podium places in his Mitsubishi.
"I have to say a massive thanks to all the guys at Macsport and LBP for a fantastic year," Henry added.
"It has been a mammoth effort covering the British, Irish Tarmac and Irish Forest championships - some 20 rallies - and we achieved more than we ever expected with four overall rally wins and three British rally podiums. It's been a terrific achievement for a such a small team."
Meanwhile, Craig Breen won the Condroz Rally in Belgium, beating his Citroen team-mate Stephane Lefebvre by 24 seconds at the end of the two-day event.
Breen and Lefebvre will be Kris Meeke's Citroen team-mates in the World championship next year and they joined the line-up for the Belgian championship event in a pair of R5 DS3s for one last outing of the season.
Breen took the lead when 2015 winner Cédric Cherain crashed out on the last of the Saturday stages and went on to hold off his French team-mate throughout Sunday. Citroen boss Yves Matton - he makes an annual appearance as a driver in his home rally - finished fifth in a WRC C4.
Matton had earlier stressed he had no plans to change next season's Citroen line-up despite the availability of World champion Sebastien Ogier following Volkswagen's sudden decision to pull out after Rally Australia later this month.
He had told French newspaper L'Equipe: "If the driver who has won the last four championships is on the market we should enter into discussions with him."
He has since clarified the situation, saying he has not talked to Ogier and that Breen and Lefebvre remain Citroen's contracted drivers along with team No.1 Meeke who has said how disappointed he is that VW's new Polo will be missing from the championship
"it would have been really interesting to see what we could have done against them [VW] next season," he said. "For me, one of the biggest losses is the 2017 Polo - now nobody will get the chance to measure themselves against that car and that's a real shame."
Although it is still possible Ogier could return to Citroen where he began his career it is increasingly likely the French star could end up at Ford with M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson postponing the announcement of his 2017 team which was due today.
"It's no secret that Sebastien's always been my number one pick for a driver," said Wilson.
"We came close to signing him with Ford at the end of 2011 and I will do everything I can to make sure he doesn't get away this time."