Belfast Telegraph

McGarrity aims to get off to a flyer as he begins quest for record ninth NI Championship

Prolific: Derek McGarrity
Prolific: Derek McGarrity

By Sammy Hamill

It has been the launch pad for many of his Northern Ireland Rally Championship successes and Derek McGarrity kicks off his bid for a record ninth title tomorrow at Kirkistown, one of his favourite venues.

The Mossley driver is listed at No.1 in the line-up for the North Armagh Club's traditional opener to the series, the Pacenotes Stages Rally, which is based within the bounds of the Co Down race circuit.

McGarrity has won the event six times in the past, including last year when he regained the McGrady Insurance NI title he had lost to Jonny Greer in 2017.

A former Irish Tarmac champion, McGarrity has scaled back on his involvement in major events but remains a constant presence in the local series, a serial winner in a variety of cars.

He's listed to drive a WRC Ford Focus tomorrow but, wheeler dealer that he is, the car has been sold and he is switching to a WRC Fiesta instead.

The opposition in WRC cars includes the Minis of Derek McGeehan, a former winner at the Kirkistown venue's New Year Stages, and Scottish visitor Nigel Feeney who is making his first - but probably not his last - foray into the NI Championship scene.

"I'm planning on doing the championship but I may have to miss one or two rounds depending on work commitments," he explained.

Alan Carmichael is a regular WRC Mini driver but has switched to a Hyundai i20 R5, a car he used to finish second overall at the end of year Turkey Run Rally in December.

The R5 contingent also includes Sean Devine, who came close to winning the Northern Ireland title in 2009 but has been missing for some time due to a back injury.

In the two-wheel drive category, all of last year's main contenders are in the mix again, including champion James Kennedy, his main 2018 rival John Devlin, plus Damian Toner and championship sponsor Fintan McGrady.

The start is scheduled for 9.30am and it should be an intriguing battle.

Top of the entry list: 1. Derek McGarrity (Ford Fiesta WRC), 2. Derek McGeehan (Mini WRC), 3. Alan Carmichael (Hyundai i20 R5), 4. Sean Devine (Ford Fiesta R5), 5. Mark Massey (Ford Fiesta R5), 6. Damian Toner (Ford Escort), 7. Dominic McNeill (Ford Fiesta WRC), 8. Nigel Feeney (Mini WRC), 9. James Kennedy (Ford Escort), 10. John Devlin (Ford Escort).

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