Ulster Rally: ‘Double double’ the driving force for Derek McGarrity
Derek McGarrity concedes a third Irish Tarmac championship is all but out of reach this season, but he still has plenty to play for on this weekend’s Todds Leap Ulster Rally.
Like a first ‘double double’ for instance.
A number of drivers from Jimmy McRae and Bertie Fisher to David Llewellin, Andrew Nesbitt and Eugene Donnelly have won Northern Ireland’s premier events, the Circuit of Ireland and the Ulster International, in the same season, but no one has ever done it two years in a row.
But Mossley wheeler-dealer McGarrity has the opportunity to add another chapter to his personal CV when he lines up in Antrim’s Courthouse Square tomorrow (1.30pm) to begin the two-day event which takes in both the Irish Tarmac and British championships.
Strangely, for a man who is joint second in the all-time Circuit of Ireland list with five wins, McGarrity’s Ulster victory last year was his first in what is effectively his home rally.
He finally made it after a frenetic duel with reigning Tarmac champion Gareth MacHale, bringing his S12 Subaru back to Antrim with the tiniest of winning margins, 1.1 seconds.
MacHale is missing this time but McGarrity must take on the driver who is favourite to succeed the Dubliner as champion, Tim McNulty, who has won in Galway and Donegal this year.
“Tim is always a hard man to beat, very competitive and very committed, and he should have a slight advantage with his S12 Subaru which has the edge in power over the S11 I’m driving this time,” said McGarrity.
“But he doesn’t have a great Ulster record and to my knowledge he has never competed over the north Antrim stages like Glendun and Tor Head before — and they are my favourites. That should even things up a bit.”
In fact, the ‘Ulster’ was the scene of what McNulty remembers as his biggest ever accident.
It happened on the first stage in 2006, ironically called Todds Leap, and he remembers: “I took a crest too fast and I knew in mid-air I was gone.
“It was a big one and it took me a while to get over it.”
But he’s back in top form now and intent on becoming Tarmac champion for the first time.
Retiring from the Rally of the Lakes was a setback but his Donegal win moved him up to second place, two points behind leader Kevin Barrett and four ahead of Daragh O’Riordan who won for the first time in Killarney.
They will all, however, be monitoring the stage times of the rally’s ‘dark horse’ Darren Gass.
He is not a championship contender but, fresh from winning the ALMC and Lurgan Park rallies in his S10 Impreza, the former British junior champion from Armagh has the pace to challenge for the win.
McGarrity and Co will lead the way in a dual event which also features the production cars of the British championship in the separate Rally NI.
Scot David Bogie is the series leader after three wins this season and Elfyn Evans and Ulster’s Jonny Greer, second and third respectively, need to win to keep the title fight alive.