Belfast Telegraph

McCloskey chasing second title

By Sammy Hamill

It is almost a year since Connor McCloskey last started a rally and almost two-and-a-half since he got behind the wheel of a production car.

But the former Northern Ireland champion is back this weekend and pondering the possibility of challenging for a second title.

The Kilrea driver was the youngest winner of the Hankook-sponsored series when he clinched the title on the final round of 2008. But the economic recession forced him to sit out almost all of last season.

Now he’s back, armed not with a WRC Subaru or Ford Focus like he used to such good effect 18 months ago, but a Group N Mitsubishi Lancer.

McCloskey has bought the ex-Seamus Leonard Lancer and it was due to be transported back from the ADR workshops in England today after an upgrade and a fresh engine fitted.

He feels circumstances in the championship have changed and a production car could be capable of taking him to the title.

“A lot of the big WRC cars have gone now and I think the championship may well be fought out by drivers in Group N cars this year,” he says.

“At the end of last year Alastair Fisher and Jonny Greer came back from the British championship and showed what could be achieved at Northern Ireland level with a well-driven production car.”

However, a win in the first round of the series, the Pedro Pet Food Stages at Kirkistown on Saturday, looks out of the question.

Reigning champion Derek McGarrity heads the line-up in his WRC Subaru S12B and will surely win again. But McGarrity says he won’t be contesting the whole championship and will only use the first two rounds as part of his preparations for the Circuit of Ireland at Easter.

In fact, he will leave Kirkistown and head directly for Nenagh and the Birr Rally on Sunday.

McGarrity’s absence, along with last year’s production champion Donal Kelly and Irish Mitsubishi Evo winner Neil McCance, will open up the championship.

Everyone will be watching intently to see how 21-year-old rookie Stuart Biggerstaff fares. He made his rally debut at Kirkistown last month in the S9 Subaru usually driven by his father, two-time NI champion Denis, and finished second.

Another performance like that and dad Denis could be stuck with the role of mentor and mechanic.

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