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McGarrity hits front in bid for ninth title

 

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Derek McGarrity

Derek McGarrity

Derek McGarrity

A change of car and a return to the venue where he has scored a series of wins saw Derek McGarrity get his challenge for a ninth Northern Ireland rally title back on track.

Still smarting over the circumstances which denied him the chance to win the McGrady Insurance championship last season when the final round was cancelled, halting a potential shoot-out between McGarrity and new champion Stephen Wright, the Mossley rally car trader again dominated the Ballynahinch club's round staged at the Bishopscourt circuit in Co Down.

Having struggled with his R5 Skoda Fabia in atrocious conditions in the opening round at Kirkistown last month, finishing third behind Wright and Derek McGeehan, McGarrity acquired a WRC Ford Fiesta in time for Bishopscourt and, along with co-driver Paddy Robinson, swept to a start-to-finish victory which allowed them to jump to the top of the championship standings.

With Wright absent, insisting he won't be in a position to defend the title this season, it was McGeehan who took the fight to McGarrity, he and son Mark finishing 11 seconds back in their WRC Mini despite a scary moment when they slammed into a trackside tyre barrier.

The incident cost them several seconds and, as it turned out, McGarrity was grateful for the breathing space for as he entered a hairpin during the final stage, he found another competitor's car stalled in the middle of the road, forcing him to take evasive action via a grassy bank to get around the stricken car.

It cost McGarrity a few seconds but he still had enough in hand to secure the win and return to the top of the standings for the first time since 2018.

Kieran Graffin, co-driven for the first time by his 16-year-old daughter Amy, was over a minute back in third in his R5 Fiesta after Gareth Sayers was blocked at the final stage finish and the radiator of Kevin Kelleher's hired Subaru burst in the closing moments. He still held onto fourth ahead of the Fiestas of Emma McKinstry and Jason Mitchell.

Donagh Kelly won the opening round of the Irish National series in Mayo in his R5 VW Polo after champion Josh Moffett retired his Hyundai from the lead before the final stage and Peadar Hurson crashed his WRC Fiesta.

Belfast Telegraph