Moffett in front as top home duo hit the skids
Hopes of a home win on the John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally were all but wiped out on one streaming wet corner of one special stage yesterday evening.
Desi Henry and Jonny Greer both came to grief within yards of each other on the rally's third stage, Cairncastle between Broughshane and Ballygally. The crews were unhurt but their cars were in no fit state to continue.
And as Monaghan's Josh Moffett battled to fend off the challenge of the leading British championship contenders, Henry and Greer were left to reflect on what might have been.
Greer, the reigning Northern Ireland champion and recent winner of the Down Rally, was in second place, less than a second behind the Skoda Fabia of Welshman Rhys Yates after the first two stages. Henry was sixth and running just ahead of Greer on the road when he admits he was caught out by the wet "shiny tar" on the Lislea Hill section of Cairncastle.
His Skoda slid into a bank, toppling a telegraph pole and ending further up the road with broken steering.
Greer, just seconds behind, arrived on the scene and was also caught out by the same slippery patch, his Ford Fiesta careering into a bank and breaking the front suspension.
It left Moffett, brother of the reigning Irish Tarmac champion Sam, taking on two Welsh drivers and a Scot at the top of the leaderboard.
With Sam sitting this one out, Josh became the effective leader of the Tarmac series when he cross the starting ramp in his brother's R5 Fiesta and he shot to the front with a clear fastest time on the ill-fated Cairncastle stage, going five seconds in front of Yates and eight ahead of British championship leader Matt Edwards.
Scot David Bogie was fourth ahead of the first of the remaining Ulster drivers, Marty McCormack in his Skoda.
Moffett increased the gap to Yates to eight seconds with another fastest time over Glendun as Edwards, Bogie and McCormack held station behind.
But it was Edwards who flew through the last stage of the night, Tor Head, to close within four seconds of Moffett and move ahead of Yates as they returned to the Antrim base.
Bogie, McCormack, who was being slowed with brake problems, and Laffey completed the top six with Philip Allen seventh. The son of the late former NI champion Glenn Allen, he was making his international debut, standing in for five-times Tarmac champion Eugene Donnelly in his Hyundai.
The Ford Escorts of Camillus Bradley and Kevin Eves were eighth and ninth with Norwegian Steve Rokland up to 10th and leading the British Junior championship division in his R2 Peugeot.
Belfast driver, William Creighton, runner-up in the series last year, was in second place but spare a thought for James Wilson who was another of the home challengers until he rolled his Peugeot during the shakedown stage yesterday morning and had to pull out of the rally.
Meanwhile, in the absence of Dungannon's Kris Meeke, Citroen drivers were well off the pace on the first leg of Rally Germany with Craig Breen in eighth place and Mads Ostberg, Meeke's replacement in 11th.
Breen was already over a minute behind the leading Toyota of Rally Finland winner Ott Tanak who was 12 second in front of the Ford of Sebastien Ogier and 27 seconds ahead of the Hyundai of World championship leader Thierry Neuville.
Ostberg was almost two minutes adrift.
The leading trio pulled clear of a fierce four-driver battle involving former Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans, Dani Sordo and Toyota Gazoo team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi.