Connor McCloskey will be back for the opening round of the Northern Ireland rally championship at Kirkistown today — the start, he says, of a bid to regain the title he won in 2008.
Back then the Kilrea driver was the youngest winner of the series, but in the past couple of years he has been restricted to just a handful of appearances due to the difficult economic climate.
Late last season, however, he showed he can still be a major force in the championship by winning the Bushwhacker Rally in his ex-Mads Ostberg Subaru Impreza and is now planning to challenge reigning champion Kenny McKinstry for the 2012 title — starting with the Magic Bullet Stages at Kirkistown on Saturday.
“It has been hard to commit to a championship programme in the past couple of years — everything has been focussed on keeping the business running,” explained McCloskey.
“Now I’d like to have a go at winning the title back and, all being well, I’ll be doing the full series.”
He lines up third in the starting list behind the S9 Subaru of McKinstry, the Kirkistown winner last year and Derek McGarrity, who started the season by winning the non-championship New Year Stages at the same venue last month in his S14 Subaru.
John McGaffin, Kevin Barrett, James Gillen and Dominic McNeill are also included in a top 10 which sees Neil McCance’s Mitsubishi Lancer (eighth) as the highest seeded production car.
In action, too, will be the McGeehan Motorsport Mini Countryman WRC which Eugene Donnelly steered to second place in the Galway International earlier this month.
This time it is being driven by ex-racer Laurie Smyth who makes his debut in the Mini driving seat at No.35.
Run by the North Armagh club, the six-stage sprint event is scheduled to start at 9am.
Top of the entry list: 1 Kenny McKinstry (Subaru Impreza); 2 Derek McGarrity (Subaru Impreza); 3 Connor McCloskey (Subaru Impreza); 4 John McGaffin (Subaru Impreza); 5 Kevin Barrett (Subaru Impreza); 6 James Gillen (Subaru Impreza); 7 Dominic McNeill (Mitsubishi Lancer); 8 Neil McCance (Mitsubishi Lancer N); 9 Sean Cassidy (Ford Fiesta); 10 Gary McEvoy (Subaru Impreza).