The Millbrook Lodge Hotel in Ballynahinch was the venue for the ANICC McGrady Insurance Motorsport UK Northern Ireland Rally Championship and Northern Ireland Forest Rally Challenge awards on Saturday 28 January 2023.
Not content with having just two championship winners present on the evening, Ballynahinch and District Motor Club attracted fifteen former Northern Ireland rally champions to the ceremony which was attended by around two hundred guests.
Easily accessible records show that since the late 1970’s a total of twenty-one drivers have won the championship. So to have this many champions in attendance is nothing short of commendable. It is absolutely remarkable, in fact.
Host for the evening, Gerry Faloona, brought his microphone to each of these drivers whilst reading out a short synopsis of their successful career. The craic was ninety, especially when many of these characters of rallying got their chance to speak. Three of these men also have their name on the prestigious Irish Tarmac Championship trophy.
It was fantastic to hear Alan ‘Plum’ Tyndall speak so highly of the championship and its drivers during interview. A lifetime of bringing our sport to the masses via RPM’s television coverage was never an easy task, and Plum received a very warm round of applause in appreciation of his efforts.
Derek Boyd who is a stalwart of the sport was also in attendance and with more event starts than anyone would dare to count, it was interesting to hear what Gerry had to say. In return, Derek spoke highly of his many navigators over the years, some of whom were amongst the crowd.
Finishing first overall in the Northern Ireland Forest Rally Challenge, it was Desi Henry, from Portglenone who picked up the first major trophy of the evening.
Picking up the Northern Ireland Rally Championship trophy for the third time was Carryduff driver, Johnny Greer, who had a fantastic season despite relying on pacenotes from a few different navigators.
Arguably the biggest award presented on the evening was the ANICC lifetime achievement award, which this year went to a man who has managed some of our country’s greatest motorsport exports both on two and in four wheels.
An accomplished driver himself, he has been part of a team that has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity via the annual Sparks dinner.
Drew Wylie is no better recipient for this award and, having featured Drew and some of his vehicles in recent years, I can confirm that this gentleman has an unquestionable passion for local and global motorsport. Well done!
A New Season
Kirkistown Hosts McGrady Insurance N.I. Rally Championship Opener This Weekend with the Eurocables Belfast Stages Rally!
High-octane motorsport action returns to Northern Ireland this Saturday with the opening round of the hotly contested McGrady Insurance Motorsport UK Northern Ireland Rally Championship!
Based within the confines of County Down’s Kirkistown Race Circuit and organised by North Armagh Motor Club, the Eurocables Belfast backed Kirkistown Stages Rally has attracted almost 80 entries.
The return of Eurocables as the event sponsor resumes a long tradition that dates back more than 20 years, while McGrady Insurance confirmed its continued sponsorship of the overall championship at a recent prizegiving event – a relationship that has thrived since 2014.
If the entry list for this weekend’s event gives an indication of the season ahead, the tussle for the 2023 crown could be one of the closest battles in recent years. More than 20 top-spec R5 rally car powered crews litter the entry list, with reigning champion, Jonny Greer, ready to defend his title.
Three-times champion Greer will be navigated by Brian Crawford in their Citroen C3 and they head a quality field that includes 2019 champion and former event winner, Stephen Wright, who starts at number two in his Ford Fiesta with Ger Conway.
Derek McGarrity is another multiple champion with a record eight titles to his credit. He and Graham Henderson add more variety to the mix with their VW Polo GTi R5 at number three, while former Irish Tarmac Champion, Darren Gass, is sure to be among the front-runners with Sam Hutchinson calling the notes in their Citroen C3.
Joe McGonigle and Aaron McLaughlin finished on equal points last year, with McGonigle getting the nod on the tie-break to claim third overall in the title chase. Both men are back for more in their Fiestas, while Stuart Biggerstaff is another former champion who will be looking to get in the mix too with his Fiesta.
Gareth Sayers could be a dark horse in his latest spec Fiesta while regulars Kieron Graffin (VW Polo), Niall Henry (Fiesta) and Emma McKinstry (Fiesta) could spring a surprise or two.
Further down the order, James Leckey is set to dust off some 25-year-old cobwebs. He was among the fastest competitors in the Irish Tarmac Championship during the ‘90s, trading times with some Irish rallying greats such as Austin MacHale and the late Bertie Fisher.
After hanging up his helmet at the end of 1998 – a season during which he won the Killarney Rally of the Lakes – the Lisburn man is set to return to action on Saturday with a Fiesta R5 hired from McKinstry Motorsport. It will be a far cry from his days behind the wheel of a Group A Subaru Impreza but given his past performances, he will be one to keep an eye on.
“Saturday is really a test session for me,” Leckey said. “I want to get back into a car and see if it’s something I want to do again. I haven’t driven competitively since the end of the 1998 season and Kenny (McKinstry) has told me to be ready to find out how slow I am! So I’m just going to test the car and see if I enjoy it.”
A strong entry has been received for the two-wheel-drive category too. Jason and Gareth Black are among the front-runners in their Toyota Starlet and will face stiff opposition from the likes of Kyle White (Peugeot 208), Barry Morris (Darrian) and James Kennedy (Escort MkII).
The event also hosts the opening round of the Micra Challenge; a category that aims to provide low-cost competition for those in Micra rally cars. 10 crews have entered the rally, promising another hotly contested category for 2023.
The Eurocables Belfast Kirkistown Stages will feature six stages, all held within the confines of Kirkistown Race Circuit. The opening stage starts at 9.15am and the finish is expected to be around 4.30pm. Admission to the event is £10 per person.
For more information, including regular updates as Saturday’s rally progresses, follow the championship on Facebook at fb.com/nirallying and nirallychampionship.com. Live results will be available from rallyscore.net.