Belfast Telegraph

Marty McCormack happy to waive points in bid for home rally glory

 

By Sammy Hamill

Make no mistake, Marty McCormack would love to win the Easter Stages Rally this weekend - but he says he has "no intention of upsetting the applecart".

Which is why the former British Junior champion won't be registering for the Irish Tarmac Championship ahead of the second round of the series, which begins from Ballyclare tomorrow (1pm).

With his record in Ulster events, the Draperstown driver could be a strong challenger for victory in his R5 Skoda Fabia but the Irish title is not his target this year and he doesn't want to take points away from the Tarmac contenders.

"I'm doing the British Championship this year and won't be able to do all the Tarmac rounds so there is no point in maybe upsetting the applecart by denying someone else points which might be crucial come the end of the season," he explained.

"But this rally is close to home and a good opportunity to get back in the Skoda before the BRC resumes with the Pirelli Rally. I haven't driven it since the Ulster Rally last year.

"And even if I won't be interested in Tarmac points, that doesn't mean I won't be trying my hardest."

McCormack will begin at No.7 in a line-up which is headed by the Moffett brothers in their Ford Fiestas, Josh, the first round winner in West Cork, at No.1 and Sam, the reigning Tarmac champion, at two.

The highest seeded Ulster driver is Derek McGarrity but the seven-time Northern Ireland champion, another contender for outright victory, won't count for points either as cars like his WRC Subaru are ineligible in the R5-based Championship.

But Desi Henry, who will roll out the latest Skoda Fabia, Jonny Greer, driving the Fiesta Henry used in West Cork, and Eugene Donnelly, making his second appearance in the all-new Hyundai i20, are the Ulster drivers who should be in the mix for the UAC event which replaces the Circuit of Ireland this year.

Frank Kelly, Wesley Patterson and Camilus Bradley head up the two-wheel-drive division in their Mk2 Ford Escorts.

There are four stages tomorrow afternoon in the Templepatrick/Lylehill area before the focus switches to the Ballymena region on Saturday, where the finish is scheduled for the Ecos Centre around 4.30pm.

Meanwhile, Kris Meeke takes on what he calls "a hell of a challenge" this weekend - and he may not just mean the twisty roads of the Tour de Corse.

For the second World Championship round in a row, the Dungannon driver has Sebastian Loeb as his Citroen team-mate and finishing ahead of the French master has to be one of his priorities, even if he wouldn't admit it.

The nine-time champion came close to winning Rally Mexico after a five-year absence and although Meeke beat him, finishing third, he was far from satisfied with his performance, confessing to too many mistakes.

The Corsican mountain roads are less forgiving and similar errors will be disastrous, although this is the rally Meeke dominated last year before his Citroen C3 suffered engine failure.

Loeb, on the other hand, has won it four times and his Mexican performance showed he is as competitive as ever. It promises to be an intriguing duel.

It was Hyundai's Thierry Neuville who went on to win after Meeke's demise last year, ending the season as runner-up to Sebastien Ogier, now a five-time champion. He leads the series again after a late charge saw his Ford Fiesta snatch a win.

Corsica is French territory -so often Citroen country in the past - and they will be eyeing up a first win of 2018 on the C3's favoured tarmac surface.

But as Meeke, fourth in the WRC standings, pointed out: "There are four manufacturers and at least half a dozen drivers who can win at World Championship level these days. I don't think there is such a thing as a safe bet in a rally that is so demanding on driver and car."

There is a ceremonial start in Bastia tonight before the action begins tomorrow with a 50km opener and ends with the 55km Vero to Sarrola test on Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph

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