McCloskey turns back the clock to land his first win in seven years
A last minute decision to enter the Tyrone Stages Rally paid off for Connor McCloskey with his first Northern Ireland championship win for seven years.
The youngest winner of the McGrady Insurance series in 2008, McCloskey has opted for cross-channel rallies in recent times but he was back to take a start-to-finish win on the Cookstown Club's final round.
The Kilrea driver, partnered by Noel O'Sullivan, led all the way in his R5 Ford Fiesta to win by 11 seconds from William Creighton who was stepping up to a four-wheel-drive R5 Citroen DS3 for the first time. In a stunning debut, he reeled in new champion Derek McGarrity to claim second place.
British Junior championship contender Creighton only tested the car - the same one Jonny Greer used to win the Down Rally earlier in the summer - for an hour at Kirkistown on Friday but adapted quickly and reeled off a series of fastest times in the latter part of the rally to overhaul the similar but troubled Citroen of McGarrity.
Already assured of the NI title for a record eighth time, McGarrity opted to drive the Keith Cronin 2016 Tarmac championship-winning DS3 instead of his WRC Ford Focus but was hampered by transmission trouble.
An increasingly confident Creighton hunted him down and closed to within a dozen seconds of McCloskey who had been 24 ahead at one point.
Creighton and co-driver Liam Regan finished 36 seconds ahead of the champion who still had a comfortable margin over fourth-placed James Kennedy, a result which ensured the Ford Escort driver secured the championship's two-wheel-drive category.
Meanwhile Northern Ireland's auto-test drivers won the international Ken Wharton Trophy for a seventh year in a row in Alcester. Led by team captain Robin Lyons, who has been part of all seven successes, the Northern Ireland team also included Stephen Ferguson, Ashley Lamont and Mark King.