McGarrity blasts call-off as Wright is gifted title
A furious Derek McGarrity has slammed the decision to call off Saturday's final round of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship, a decision which has cost him a record ninth title and handed it to Stephen Wright.
Due to be run by the Mid-Antrim Club, the Glens of Antrim Rally should have seen the McGrady Insurance series come down to a deciding shoot-out between reigning champion McGarrity and Monaghan driver Wright.
But the organisers yesterday announced that it was off, saying it had been cancelled "due to the event failing to reach the minimum number of fully-paid entries by the closing date".
It is understood that more than 50 drivers had entered but a number had not accompanied their entry with the appropriate fees and the Mid Antrim organisers decided to call a halt rather than risk a financial loss.
The decision has scuppered McGarrity's chances of that ninth title and he is furious.
"I know they need a minimum number of entries to cover their costs but I understand there were 13 unpaid entries submitted which, if they had paid, would have exceeded the minimum number required," said the Mossley driver.
"I offered to cover the cost of those unpaid entries and would have taken the hit if they didn't pay up or didn't start. But they said no, it was too late, the decision had been taken.
"After the effort myself and Stephen and others like Desi Henry and Derek McGeehan have put in over the season, it is shameful that Mid Antrim have taken this decision and made a farce of what until now has been a great Championship battle."
Wright, who becomes the first driver from the Republic to win the NI series, was shocked when he heard the news.
"It is not often you win a Championship on a Tuesday morning," he joked. "But it is disappointing for it to end this way. I was looking forward to a good battle with Derek on Saturday and I still find it hard to take in the way it has ended."
Wright, in fact, wins on a countback of scores over the season, the two of them now finishing on 158 and a half points each.
They both won two rounds but Wright outscored McGarrity with three second-place finishes to the now former champion's two.
He finds it hard to take despite having already won the series a record eight times.
"They call off the rally without consideration for the time, commitment and expense that has gone into getting drivers like myself and Steven to this point," he said.
"Maybe I should have had it all wrapped up a while ago but the WRC Ford Fiesta I was using developed a mystery misfire and when even M-Sport couldn't cure it, I went out and got an R5 Skoda Fabia in which I won the last round, the tarmac Tyrone Stages.
"I then spent a small fortune on new gravel suspension to get ready for the Glens of Antrim forests.
"That's how much I wanted to win the Championship.
"But that doesn't count for anything as far as the rally organisers are concerned. They just bin it without consulting anyone as far as I can see. It is a disgrace."