Henry hassle gifts McGarrity record eighth win
It wasn't how Derek McGarrity envisaged winning a record eighth Northern Ireland Rally Championship, not with his Ford Focus loaded on to its trailer and ready for home with the Bushwhacker Rally just past the halfway stage.
But fortune turned in his favour in an unexpected way on Saturday, leaving the champion in an uncatchable position with just the final round of the McGrady Insurance series remaining.
McGarrity only needed a fourth place or better finish to ensure he regained the title he lost to Jonny Greer last season and was on course until his WRC Focus returned to the service area in Castlederg after the first three stages trailing oil.
Closer inspection showed the crack casing had been cracked and he decided to pull out.
It turned the spotlight on Desi Henry, one of two drivers who could overhaul McGarrity at the top of the standings. He still needed to repeat his 2017 Bushwhacker win and he was challenging new Irish forestry champion Josh Moffett for the lead, the two of them split by just two seconds.
But on the sixth stage the gear linkage of his R5 Skoda Fabia came apart and although Henry patched it up with cable ties to continue, 30 seconds or so had been lost along with his hopes of victory.
He dropped to seventh place before a late charge brought him back to third place at the finish it wasn't enough. And with Alan Carmichael, the other possible title contender, finishing outside the top 10, McGarrity was champion again.
"It's good to get the job done, even if it wasn't the way I expected and I would like to have finished the rally," said McGarrity.
"We could have kept topping up the oil but it could have caused a fire and I couldn't risk losing such an expensive car."
With Henry gone, Moffett, already assured of the Irish championship, cruised to his second successive win in the Ulster forests, bringing his R5 Ford Fiesta to the finish ahead of Vivian Hamill in another R5 Fiesta.
Henry was only 27 seconds behind the winner, having reeled in the WRC Subaru of Connor McCloskey on the final stage.
Behind McCloskey, Adrian Hetherington took fifth place in his WRC Toyota Corolla with Cathan McCourt completing the top six in his R5 Fiesta.
Patrick O'Brien won the production category in seventh in his Mitsubishi ahead of the Subaru of Scot Jock Armstrong and Paul Barrett was best of the two-wheel-drive contingent, 16th in his Ford Escort.
Meanwhile, Wayne Boyd was on board the United Autosport team's LMP2 Ligier and in sixth place when the Spa round of the European Le Mans series was abandoned just after half distance because of heavy rain.
The race was won by Filipe Alburquerque and Phil Hanson but Boyd, who was teamed with Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer, set the fastest lap as he climbed from 11th to sixth before the race was red flagged.