Belfast Telegraph

Champions chase quick start to a new rally year

By Sammy Hamill

It is the traditional  Northern Ireland rally season opener and the New Year Stages on Saturday will feature a handful of former champions including Derek McGarrity, Kenny McKinstry and Connor McCloskey.

McGarrity, the eight times NI champion, won last year ahead of McCloskey and McKinstry and he is looking for yet another victory at Kirkistown. The Ulster Automobile Club event is not part of the championship but is where the opening round of the series is regularly staged.

However, this year it has been downgraded to a reserve round but that hasn’t deterred the likes of McGarrity, who lost his NI title to Jonny Greer in a last round shoot-out in November, and McKinstry from making an early start to the new season.

Both are scheduled to drive WRC Subarus along with the likes of Paddy McVeigh, Kevin Barrett, Emma McKinstry, Scottish visitor Brian Watson and another former champion Denis Biggerstaff.

Greer’s championship victory last season was the first for an R5 class car and there are several of them in the field this weekend including the Ford Fiestas of McCloskey, Mark Massey and Philip Allen, son of the late former champion Glenn Allen.

Meanwhile, Kris Meeke was fourth fastest in shakedown ahead of tonight’s start to the Monte Carlo Rally, his Citroen fractionally slower than the Hyundais of Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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