Desi Henry has a habit of making occasional appearances in the Northern Ireland Rally Championship and winning. But the Tour of the Sperrins has always eluded him.
He changed all that on Saturday with a start to finish victory in which he saw off the powerful WRC Subarus of former Tarmac champions Garry Jennings and Derek McGarrity, setting fastest times on all six stages in his R5 Skoda Fabia.
He and co-driver Liam Moynihan won by just under 13 seconds from Jennings with McGarrity, a four-time winner of the Sperrins Rally, third a further 40 seconds behind. However, with neither Henry nor Jennings registered for the McGrady Insurance NI series, McGarrity increased his lead in the standing as he pursues an eighth title.
Henry, a former Irish forestry champion, is targeting the premier Tarmac championship this season and came to the Sperrins event on the back of a strong third place on the Rally of the Lakes. He led all the way although Jennings, competing for just the second time this season, was right on his heels until he spun his Subaru on stage four.
“Garry’s spin gave us a bit of air but I had to keep pushing to the end. I’m just delighted to get the win after years of trying and now we can look forward to the Donegal International,” said Henry.
Ryan Loughran came home fourth, a narrow winner of the two-wheel-drive category in his Ford Escort, six seconds ahead of Scotland’s former British champion David Bogie, also in an Escort.
Amy Cox held an impressive sixth place going into the last stage in the McCormack brothers’ S2000 Skoda Fabia but a storming finish by Paddy McVeigh in his WRC Subaru saw the Omagh driver power his way past the Beragh girl and grab the final top six position.
Meanwhile, there was double disappointment for Ulster drivers Wayne Boyd and Daniel Harper at Monza.
A weekend which had started so promisingly for Harper saw him leave the Italian circuit devastated after throwing away a glorious opportunity for a first Porsche Carrera Cup victory.
The 17-year-old Porsche scholarship winner from Hillsborough had put in a stunning performance to claim pole position on his first visitor the Italian Grand Prix circuit but his joy lasted no further than the first corner on Saturday.
He made a sluggish start, dropping to third place, and in a desperate attempt to recover he misjudged his braking point into the first corner, the notorious Rettifilo chicane, and collided with his JTR team-mate Louis Plato, eliminating both cars. The incident also claimed the third JTR Carrera of Jamie Orton.
Harper apologised profusely to the team who got all three cars repaired and into yesterday’s second race where he climbed from 22nd on the grid to eighth, good recovery but far short of what might have been.
Boyd looked on course for a top six finish in the European Le Mans series until the final five minutes of the four-hour race when both United Autosport LMP2 Ligiers had to stop for a splash of fuel. He dropped to 11th, one place behind team-mate Filipe Alburquerque.