Eurocables Stages rally at Kirkistown Race Circuit

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Glengormley’s Derek McGarrity and navigator James McKee emerged as the champion of champions at Saturday’s Eurocables Stages Rally, round one of the Hankook MSA N.I. Stage Rally Championship!
 
The event, which was also sponsored by Pedro Pet Foods, saw four former Northern Ireland Championship title holders enter the rally, as well as reigning champion, Connor McCloskey.
 
It was McGarrity who led in his Subaru Impreza WRC S12b from the outset, setting fastest time over the first of six stages. While some of his rivals caught slower cars during their second lap of the circuit, the 2002 champion capitalised to take the rally lead by six seconds from Connor McCloskey and Francis Regan.
 
But it was no fluke that McGarrity was fastest on that opening test, and the stage one results set the scene for the day as far as the Glengormley driver and rival McCloskey were concerned. McCloskey tried hard to catch the flying Subaru but McGarrity held the edge. He claimed a total of six fastest times out of six stages to take a convincing Kirkistown victory, finishing 26 seconds ahead of reigning champion Connor McCloskey.
 
"It was very enjoyable," rally winner McGarrity said at the end of the final stage. "It’s good to get the win and it was good to get more seat time in a left-hand drive car."
 
Second placed McCloskey was equally as happy with the result. The young Kilrea driver was always going to find it difficult to match McGarrity’s pace in an older specification Ford Focus WRC, but he was consistently second fastest throughout the event.
 
"We had a good enough day," McCloskey said. "We didn’t have any major dramas, although the car needs a new door after we hit a bale on the first stage! But everything was 100 percent and I’m happy with the result. Our car just didn’t have the legs for Derek’s Subaru, but I didn’t expect to beat Kenny!"
 
Banbridge’s Kenny McKinstry, navigated by Noel Orr, claimed third after tussling for the final podium position with a number of other drivers. It was Alan Carmichael and Ivor Lamont who held the position after the opening stage, but they dropped down the order after catching another car on the circuit.
 
That left McKinstry, who was a multiple winner of the N.I. Championship during the late 80s, in third ahead of Denis Biggerstaff and Damian McCann. It was nip and tuck between the two drivers, until the third stage saw Biggerstaff overshoot a junction!
 
"I was trying to get a bit closer to the Focus WRCs and in order for me to get there, I had to brake later – so I did!" Biggerstaff laughed afterwards. "I came down into a junction at what felt like 100mph too hard! She just locked up – I probably should have changed my tyres a stage earlier."
 
"I could see the tyre wall getting closer and closer," Biggerstaff continued, "but unbelievably she stopped before we hit it. I reversed back but didn’t reverse far enough and broke the front bumper when getting around a bale. I also cooked the clutch so had to wait for it to cool down before we were back up to full speed."
 
Biggerstaff lost around 20 seconds as a result but there was more trouble just around the corner. An oil ring broke in one of his gearbox pipes towards the end of the fourth stage, which resulted in his Subaru catching fire! Thankfully, marshals at the stage finish were able to douse the flames, and with the help of the McKinstry team, Biggerstaff changed his gearbox in preparation for the final two stages.
 
Biggerstaff’s problems provided McKinstry with some breathing room, and the Banbridge driver kept his nose clean during the final two stages to take third overall.
 
"We had a very good day," McKinstry said afterwards. "It’s just a pity we lost time when we were stuck behind another car for a whole lap. My daughter Emma’s car caught fire on stage two and I’d like to ask all those competitors who used their fire extinguishers to give me a call."
 
While Emma McKinstry and Kenny Hull retired after their fiery dramas on stage two, Denis Biggerstaff and Damian McCann were lucky to finish fourth overall. Only for the help received from the McKinstry Motorsport team, Biggerstaff may not have reached the finish at all! He managed to overhaul Seamus Leonard and John McCafferty on the penultimate stage, and held on to make it a top four of current and former N.I. Champions!
 
Fifth placed Seamus Leonard enjoyed his first foray in the Hankook MSA N.I. Rally Championship, although he also caught slower cars around the track. In the end, he finished 11 seconds ahead of 1995 N.I. Champion, George Robinson, who admitted to losing some time with a bad tyre choice.
 
Round two of the Hankook MSA N.I. Stage Rally Championship, the McGrady Insurance Stages, takes place on Saturday 14 March. Based near Downpatrick at Bishopscourt Race Circuit, the event has already received almost 50 entries.
 
Both the Eurocables Stages and the McGrady Insurance Stages will be televised on UTV on Thursday 26 March. For more information, including results and championship standings, visit the official championship website at www.nirally.com.
 
<span style=”font-weight: bold;”>Sunoco Fuels Group N category</span>
 
There was a tight race in the Sunoco Fuels Group N category which went right down to the wire. While both John McGlaughlin and Neil McCance retired early in the event, tenths of a second separated Raymond Johnston and reigning Group N champion Cathal Rogers. Going into the final two stages, less than one second separated the crews, but Rogers lost some time during the fifth test when he caught another car.
 
That gave Johnston some breathing room as he went fastest on the test to extend his advantage to five seconds. The final stage saw Rogers pull out all the stops, but it wasn’t enough to overhaul his rival. In the end, it was Johnston and navigator Fabian McAleer who claimed victory, with Cathal and Eoighan Rogers second ahead of Mark Massey and Andrew McVeigh.
 
"We had some tyre problems," Group N winner Raymond Johnston said at the finish. "I think we were just running on them for too long but it was a good, close fight with Cathal!"
 
<span style=”font-weight: bold;”>Superdrive 2WD category</span>
 
Lisburn’s Wesley Patterson, with Terence Teggart calling the notes, dominated the Superdrive two-wheel-drive category from the start. The Mark 2 Escort pilot has proved to be virtually unbeatable around the Kirkistown venue in recent years, although he almost let the win slip from his grasp on the final stage!
 
"We spun on the last stage," Patterson exclaimed, "and a tyre caught underneath the car. Other than that, we had a good day, although I think we damaged the steering as she’s like driving a shopping trolley!"
 
Patterson had built a substantial lead prior to the incident, so he still claimed the win as well as 10th overall. Former kart and Formula Ford racer, Drew Stewart, took second among the two-wheel drive crews with Steven Park calling the notes, while Trevor Moore and J.M. McGrath survived a two-wheeled moment to finish third.
 
<span style=”font-weight: bold;”>Montgomery Motorsport Historic category</span>
 
The new Montgomery Motorsport historic category saw seven entrants take to the start line and it was Philip Hunter and Michael Faloon who took the first victory of the season. Driving their Mark 2 Escort, the crew led from start to finish, taking a 17 second victory.
 
"It was a fairly straightforward day," Hunter said, "and we just about managed to avoid all of the tyres!"
 
Alan Jardine and Jim McSherry claimed second in their Mark 1 Escort, with Philip McDowell and Mark Stirling taking third. John Keatley and James McKeefry were next in line with their Porsche 911 while Tommy O’Connell and Sean Magee completed the top five.

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Graham is a professional photographer and motoring writer with over 15 varied years of coverage from manufacturer press launches to international motorsport and rally events throughout the world. Graham is a full member of the Guild of Motoring Writers. See more at grahamcurry.com

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