Even by Kenny McKinstry’s high standards this is turning out to be a vintage year.
Winner of all five rounds of the Northern Ireland championship so far, he came close to filling in one of the few gaps in his CV at Easter when he led overnight on the Circuit of Ireland but eventually finished second.
But it proved that McKinstry, now well into his mid-50s, is still a potent force in Irish rallying.
Astonishingly, it was almost 30 years ago that the Banbridge rally team boss first won the Lurgan Park Rally and in the intervening period, during which he has been Irish Tarmac champion (twice), Northern Ireland champion (three times) and British national champion, the Co Armagh town park has become his domain.
His 1983 win was the first of 11 victories and he has lost count of the number of times he has been runner-up, the most recent being last year when he missed out on a 12th victory by just 1.3 seconds.
McKinstry did, however, have the satisfaction of seeing one of his fleet of hire-drive Subarus finish in front of him in the hands of Darren Gass.
“It is almost as good as winning myself,” he insisted afterwards, although it seemed he was taking his ‘the customer comes first’ mantra to extremes.
But that will not be a consideration on Saturday when McKinstry lines up for the 32nd running of the Orchard Motorsport sponsored event (first stage 10.30am). Gass, the 23-year-old former British junior champion and ex-Mitsubishi UK team driver, will again be in opposition but this time in his recently-acquired S10 Subaru, not a car from the McKinstry stable.
And adding an extra element of needle will be the appearance of Derek McGarrity. He was leading last year until a contentious moment on stage five where Gass misjudged his approach into a slippery chicane and cut across the grass to get himself out of trouble. It appeared he might be penalised “for shortening the course” but officials decided — controversially in the view of some — he had not gained an advantage.
He went on to win the rally for the first time but McGarrity was far from happy and, after dropping back to finish third, departed the park in high dudgeon, saying he wouldn’t be back.
But all concerned have settle their differences and the five-times Circuit of Ireland winner returns to drive his S12 Subaru in search of a first Park victory.
The line-up will feature Denis Biggerstaff, top production class drivers Garry Jennings and Pat O’Connell as well as Circuit of Ireland legend Jimmy McRae.