Belfast Telegraph

O'Connell and McGimpsey to battle it out as Championship goes down to the wire


Full throttle: Dungiven driver Gerard O’Connell in his Radical will be revved up to claim this year’s hillclimb championship
Full throttle: Dungiven driver Gerard O’Connell in his Radical will be revved up to claim this year’s hillclimb championship

By Sammy Hamill

A quick blast lasting little more than 45 seconds will settle the Northern Ireland hillclimb championship on Saturday. But will it be Gerard O'Connell or Richard McGimpsey?

They head into the final round battling for the top spot with just the short sprint up the Knockagh climb outside Carrickfergus looking like being the decider.

The Ulster Automobile Club round proved a damp squib last year when a combination of steady rain and a dangerous oil slick laid down by a competitor's damaged engine forced the event to be abandoned before any meaningful times could be set.

Fingers crossed it will be different this year with O'Connell and McGimpsey vying to succeed Chris Houston as the Millers Oil champion.

The advantage is with O'Connell, the championship standings showing the versatile Dungiven driver leading by nine points in his Radical sports car having scored in six of the eight rounds so far including a bonus points win at Eagle's Rock last month.

McGimpsey was the early leader in the series in his RMG Turbo but mechanical issues have dogged the Newtownards driver in the latter part of the season, scoring just five times and picking up only eight points in the last four.

But he won at Knockagh in 2016, the last time the event was completed, setting a new hill record of 45.34 seconds in the process. He will need a similar drive and maybe a little help from O'Connell to emulate his father Robert and become champion.

The entry also includes two-time champion Houston in his OMS and another past champion, Graham Thompson, who has made a strong comeback with three wins in a row in the middle part of the season in his GTR Turbo.

The action gets under way early on Saturday morning with the three-quarter mile course running from the Carrickfergus end up towards the monument.

Meanwhile, the World Rally Championship returns to Turkey this weekend after an eight-year gap. Based at Marmaris, starting with a street stage tonight, it sees Hyundai's Thierry Neuville continue his battle to hold off Ford's World champion Sebastien Ogier and Toyota's rising star Ott Tanak who has won the last two rounds.

In the absence of the sacked Kris Meeke, troubled Citroën, languishing in bottom place in the manufacturers' championship, continue with Craig Breen and Mads Ostberg.

The event is also the final round of the Junior WRC with Derry's British Junior champion Callum Devine aiming to build on his fifth place finish in Rally Finland.

Belfast Telegraph


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