Serial winner McGarrity makes it four victories in another successful start to new year
Derek McGarrity started the 2017 season as he has done so often in the past, winning the New Year Stages Rally at Kirkistown for a fourth time. But this was a first for the seven times Northern Ireland champion, with McGarrity scoring a debut win in a R5 Ford Fiesta.
Usually seen in WRC cars, including the Fiesta in which he won the 2017 NI title, the Mossley driver switched to an ex-Elfyn Evans R5 Ford for the first time and steered it to a 10-second win over Connor McCloskey, who was making his debut in a WRC Fiesta ahead of planned outing in the Welsh Cambrian Rally in the BTRDA championship.
The Ulster Automobile Club's season-opening rally was effectively settled on the first stage of a wet Co Down morning where McGarrity adapted quickest to set the fastest time ahead of Robert Woodside, another driver out for the first time in an R5 Citroen, and Kenny McKinstry's WRC Subaru.
McCloskey was 11 seconds off the pace as he settled into the ex-Ott Tanak Fiesta but for the next five stages, as the race circuit dried out, they traded times, rarely separated by more than a second.
It left McGarrity exactly 10 seconds in front at the finish and primed for the start of the NI championship, the North Armagh Club's Pacenotes Rally, at the same venue in two weeks' time when he might well switch back to a WRC car.
"The R5 is a great little car and I enjoyed it but when the conditions got drier I missed the outright power of a WRC car so we'll see what happens between now and the first round of the championship," he said.
McKinstry was another 20 seconds back in third in his S14 Impreza with Mark Massey taking fourth in an S8 Subaru hired from McKinstry's Banbridge stable. Woodside, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the event where he and co-driver Allan Harryman first got together, fell back to finish fifth in the DGM team's Citroen DS3.
Martin Cairns, also warming up for the Cambrian Rally, completed the top six in his WRC Fiesta with Kyle White winning the two-wheel drive division in seventh in his little R2 Peugeot. Niall Henry was eighth and winner of the production category in his Mitsubishi.
Meanwhile Jon Armstrong will be the driver when the M-Sport organisation bring their new Ford Fiesta RT2 Sport Trophy car to the Galway International this weekend.
The young Fermanagh driver impressed in the DMACK Trophy Fiesta series in the World championship last season and has been invited to debut the budget specification car in Ireland.
M-Sport are introducing a new RT2 Fiesta Trophy series to the Irish Tarmac championship which kicks off in Galway on Friday. The winner will join the other finalists in a Sport Trophy shoot-out at M-Sport's headquarters in Cumbria at the end of the season where a drive in a round of the 2018 World championship will be up for grabs.