On a rare home appearance, Kris Meeke will lead the line-up for Saturday’s Orchard Motorsport Lurgan Park Rally.
But he will not have to take on Darren Gass, winner of the North Armagh Club’s popular town park rally for the past two years.
Gass — the 23-year-old former British junior champion from nearby Markethill — says he has been ruled out because of a gearbox issue affecting his Galway International and Circuit of Ireland winning S10 Subaru Impreza.
“After the Donegal International we discovered the gearbox casing had been cracked,” said Gass, current leader of the Irish Tarmac championship.
“And unfortunately the replacement is not going to be here in time. It’s disappointing. I was looking forward to going for the hat-trick and having a crack at Kris but unfortunately the car isn’t going to be ready.”
Apart from a ‘fun run’ in a Ford Escort at Lurgan Park a couple of years ago, Dungannon-born Meeke has not competed in Northern Ireland since 2007 when he won the Ulster Rally and took part in the World championship Rally Ireland.
Since then he has gone on to win the Intercontinental Challenge for Peugeot before stepping up to the World championship with the factory Mini team.
A funding dispute between Mini’s parent company BMW and the team’s operators, Prodrive, has seen him sidelined this season, leaving him frustrated and fired for the opportunity to perform in front of a home crowd on Saturday.
He will drive a privately-owned McGeehan Motorsport Mini WRC, one of three of the Prodrive-developed four-wheel-drive, 1600c turbocharged cars in the Lurgan Park starting list. Team boss Derek McGeehan will be in another, the first right-hand-drive version to be built by Prodrive, and a third will be driven by five-times Circuit of Ireland winner Derek McGarrity.
Taking on the Mini men will be the Subarus of 11-times Park winner Kenny McKinstry and Garry Jennings.
Jennings intends running the Impreza 555 in which he leads the Irish forest championship.
The rally starts at 10-30am.