McGarrity on course but it’s a rocky road
Derek McGarrity emerged from his favourite Co Antrim stages leading the Todds Leap Ulster Rally at the end of the first leg.
But, even for last year’s winner, it was a topsy-turvy day which threw up several unexpected twists.
Like Garry Jennings putting all the British championship contenders in the shade by leading the production-based Rally NI; like his closest challenge coming from the flying 1600cc Citroen DS3 of Marty McCormack; like Darren Gass being well off the pace of McGarrity and Tim McNulty and like Jonny Greer being left in the wake of Jennings and McCormack.
It had all seemed so routine for five-times Circuit of Ireland winner McGarrity as he set the pace in his S11 Subaru from the Antrim start yesterday, clocking fastest times over Knockboy, Glendun and Tor Head to lead by 18 seconds from McNulty.
But things did not go so smoothly second time around. McGarrity stalled his Subaru at the start of Knockboy and McNulty, a winner in Galway and Donegal this year, slashed the gap by 10 seconds. He took a further six on Glendun and suddenly that gap was down to two seconds.
Then, over the blind crests and jumps of Tor Head, it was McNulty’s turn to falter and McGarrity re-established his lead, finishing the leg with a 19 seconds advantage.
Gass had been considered by many a good outside bet for victory but he was unsettled from the start, complaining his S10 Subaru felt “nervous” over the jumps and he fell away to end the day one and a half minutes down on McGarrity.
Jennings in his production Mitsubishi, meanwhile, had opened up a gap of almost half a minute at the head of the Rally NI leaderboard.
But it wasn’t British championship leader David Bogie or rising Welsh star Elfyn Evans or, indeed, the Super 2000 Skoda Fabia of pre-rally favourite Greer that was chasing him. Instead it was McCormack in the French Sainteloc team’s little two-wheel-drive Citroen.
The 24-year-old from Draperstown was superb and would have been even closer to Jennings but he lost precious seconds and a lot of paintwork scraping along a Tor Head wall as he squeezed past the ailing Mitsubishi of Alan Ring.
The anticipated battle with Mark Donnelly never materialised after the Omagh driver’s Renault Clio developed a serious misfire on the way to the first stage and he struggled just to stay in the rally.
Tommy Doyle took up the challenge, bringing his Clio into third place ahead of the Mitsubishis of Scottish champion Bogie and Sam Moffett and the struggling Greer.
Evans, son of 1989 Ulster winner Gwyndaf Evans, might have been in the thick of it but a first stage puncture cost almost three minutes and dropped his Subaru out of contention.