Henry ups his title challenge after late charge to rally win
Desi Henry thrust himself right into the mix for a first Northern Ireland Championship with a fighting victory in round six at the Bushwhacker Rally.
The Portglenone driver has only contested three rounds but has won all of them and is now an unlikely contender for the title as he mounts a late challenge to the top three in the standings: Derek McGeehan, Stephen Wright and Derek McGarrity.
He came from behind to snatch victory in the Tyrone forests on Saturday, his WRC Ford Fiesta crewed by co-driver Conor Mohan finishing eight seconds ahead of the surprise runner-up Lithuanian Martynas Samsonas in his self-built, four-wheel-drive BMW E46, with Niall McCullagh taking third in his R5 Fiesta.
Samsonas led for all but the final two stages in the mighty BMW but Henry reeled him in with six fastest times in a row as he overcame the disadvantage of running first on the road and sweeping away the loose gravel.
"We struggled the first half of the day as the roads were extremely loose and we were very limited to what we could do, especially against a raging 450 horse power BMW of Martynas who could get his power down on a cleaner road. But fair play to him for a fantastic drive," acknowledged Henry.
"But on the second loop we were quickest on every stage and we managed to clinch the win. It was a real rollercoaster of a day."
Wright was best of his potential title rivals, finishing seventh overall but taking second place points in his R5 Fiesta with McGarrity eighth and again plagued with a misfire in his WRC Fiesta. McGeehan, the championship leader, was back in 11th in his WRC Mini.
He stays top on 162 points but has already reached a maximum of six scores and can only add a fraction of the 75 available over the final two rounds. Wright has 141 from five and McGarrity 114 effectively from four. Henry has 90 but can take all the points on offer - if he can keep winning.
The Omagh round brought late disappointment for Patrick O'Brien, the former Irish Junior champion who had been hard on the heels of Samsonas on his debut in a McKinstry Motorsport R5 Fiesta. However, a blown turbo forced him out on the penultimate stage.
Vivian Hamill and Connor McCloskey also failed to finish after challenging at the front, leaving Conor McCourt, Scottish visitor Jock Armstrong and Martin Cairns to fill the remaining top six positions.
Adrian Hetherington won the two-wheel-drive category in his Ford Escort after a fierce duel with the Toyota Starlet of Shane McGirr which was only settled on the final stage.
Wayne Boyd recovered to take fourth place in the European Le Mans prototype round at Spa in Belgium after his LMP3 Ligier had been as low as 11th.