McGarrity triumph ignites rally title fight as Wright is denied by 'Benone-gate' incident
Derek McGarrity thrust himself right back into the fight for the Northern Ireland Rally Championship - and a record eighth title - with a hairsbreadth victory in the penultimate round, the Tyrone Stages.
McGarrity and co-driver Paddy Robinson squeaked over the line by two seconds from Stephen Wright and Liam Moynihan at the end of a day which proved damaging to the hopes of Desi Henry and Derek McGeehan.
It is Wright who now leads the McGrady Insurance series going to the season finale in the forests of the Glen of Antrim on November 9 but it is amazingly tight with the Monaghan driver a point ahead of McGarrity and eight in front of McGeehan on the countback of best scores.
Wright can feel unfortunate not to have won a rally which was effectively settled by a gate which had been knocked into the path of his Ford Fiesta, forcing him to slow right down and bounce over it. Wright reckoned it cost him eight to 10 seconds, the difference between winning and losing.
But it was McGarrity who claimed the victory, his first of the series, after switching from his WRC Fiesta, which has been plagued by a persistent misfire, to an R5 Skoda Fabia he had only acquired earlier in the week. Despite having little time to set up the car for the slippery stages close to Benone strand, he was in the thick of the battle from the start, tracking early leader Henry and Wright.
But Henry's late charge for the title - he had won three of the last four rounds - came to a halt when he twice put his WRC Fiesta off the road. And with McGeehan retiring his WRC Mini with engine trouble, it came down to a fight between McGarrity and Wright who launched a furious attack over the last two stages, clawing nine seconds back, but denied a possible third win of the season by that errant gate.
Junior Irish Tarmac champion William Creighton stepped up for just his second R5 outing and again showed his potential, finishing third in a DGM Fiesta ahead of a dispirited Henry. Gareth Sayers was fifth and Sean Devine sixth, both in R5 Fiestas.
Barry Morris came with a late run in his Darrian to snatch victory in the two-wheel-drive division ahead of the Ford Escorts of John Devlin and James Kennedy.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland won the international autotest Ken Wharton Trophy for a record eighth year in a row at Alcester, Warwickshire, where they finished ahead of the Republic of Ireland and England.
Paul Blair was the individual winner alongside Robin Lyons, Mark King and Paul Mooney.