Belfast Telegraph

Pressure is mounting on McGeehan in chase for Northern Ireland crown


Long shot: Desi Henry has an outside chance of NI title
Long shot: Desi Henry has an outside chance of NI title

By Sammy Hamill

Saturday's Bushwhacker Rally could settle a lot of scores in the battle for the McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Championship title.

It should, for instance, determine whether long-time leader Derek McGeehan can push on towards the title; whether Stephen Wright can become the first southern driver to win the NI series; whether seven-times champion Derek McGarrity can overcome the mechanical issues which have dogged his challenge this year, or whether Desi Henry will emerge as a contender towards the latter stages of the Championship.

The Omagh Club event is round six of the series and marks the point when the 'best six scores from eight' rule starts to kick in.

McGeehan has a seemingly commanding lead of 23 points over Wright, but the Draperstown rally engineer has yet to win a round and is leading on the strength of a run of five top three finishes in his WRC Mini. Wright, on the other hand, has two victories in just four counting scores in his R5 Ford Fiesta.

But both will be looking over their shoulders at the impending threat from McGarrity, and possibly Henry too. On paper they are a long way adrift of the leading duo, McGarrity 48 points behind and Henry all of 76 back from McGeehan.

However, they have the potential to add all of the 100-plus points available over the final three rounds starting on Saturday morning when 10 gravel stages in the Tyrone forests will play a major part in shaping the outcome of the Championship.

Henry, a former Irish forestry champion, has only entered two rounds, winning both of them, and, never having intended to contest the full series, is surprised to find himself with a mathematical chance of taking the title for the first time. He will decide after the Bushwhacker if it is worth continuing.

"We know what we need to do to have a chance of winning the Championship, so a lot will depend on the outcome this weekend," said the Portglenone driver.

He heads a strong Bushwhacker entry list in his WRC Fiesta and he will be followed across the start line by the R5 Fiesta of Vivian Hamill and the WRC Subaru of former NI champion Connor McCloskey.

McGarrity is at No.5 in his WRC Fiesta behind the R5 versions of Niall McCullagh and Conor McCourt, with McGeehan at seven and Wright starting eighth.

James Kennedy is an impressive third overall in the standings in his Ford Escort but, more realistically, is targeting the two-wheel-drive category and starts at No.26.

The McKelvey Asbestos sponsored round starts at 9.30am from the Silverbirch Hotel, with service based at the Aghyaran Community Centre, Castlederg.

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