This year’s Northern Ireland Rally Championship was supported once again by McGrady Insurance, it was a familiar start to the season with a visit to the fastest racing circuit in Ireland as Kirkistown hosted the single venue stage rally event.

A quick look down the entry list suggested something in the region of six potential winners and all eyes were on reigning champion, Jonny Greer, to see if he could hold off this stiff opposition to retain his title and become a four-time Northern Ireland champion.

Here’s how the season unfolded…

Round 1, North Armagh Motor Club, Eurocables Belfast Kirkistown Stages.

The opening round of the championship attracted more than 70 entries from some of the country’s top rally talent. With more than 20 top-spec R5 rally cars and a strong two-wheel-drive contingent, a tight battle for the spoils was expected but nobody could have predicted just how close that battle transpired to be.

Reigning champion, Jonny Greer, led the field off the start ramp but it was Stephen Wright who raised eyebrows after the damp opening stage. The two-times event winner set the pace by an impressive 5.1s while his rivals struggled with tyre choice.

A change of tyre compound for the second stage allowed Greer to cut Wright’s lead in half, but Wright held firm and stayed just ahead of Greer for the rest of the event. With Wright not registered for the championship, Greer took maximum points from the opening round.

Multiple Northern Ireland champion, Derek McGarrity was plagued by a misfire all day, losing him valuable time. Hard charging crews of Aaron McLaughlin and Garth Sayers capitalised on Derek’s misfortune to finish the event third and fourth respectively. With Derek gathering some points in fifth.

In the two-wheel-drive category, Jason and Gareth Black brought their stunning Toyota Starlet to a well-deserved category win but it wasn’t all plain sailing for the pair.

James and Heather Kennedy claimed second on this occasion while Barry Morris and Dylan Doonan got the better of Kyle White and Sean Topping to secure third overall in their Darrian.

Round 2, Ballynahinch and District Motor Club, Race & Rally Bishopscourt Stages.

Jonny Greer co-driven by Niall Burns claimed a start to finish victory on this year’s single venue event. Driving their Citroen C3, Greer laid down the marker from the outset, quickly edging out a lead over the chasing VW Polo GTi belonging to Derek McGarrity and Graham Henderson.

Conditions were slippery all day, but Greer managed to win the event from eventual second placed driver, Gareth Sayers by more than 20 seconds. Derek McGarrity had looked set to seal second overall, but he was coming under increasing pressure from Desi Henry and Paddy Robinson. Going into the final stage, only 4.5s separated the two crews.

And in a strange set of circumstances, neither of them sealed second overall.

Near the end of the stage, Desi Henry’s Citroen broke a shaft. He slowly struggled towards the finish line and soon afterward, Derek McGarrity – who started the stage behind him – had caught up with his rival. With nowhere to go, McGarrity’s Volkswagen hit the back of the Citroen and pushed it over the finish line.

The resultant time loss for both crews saw a surprised Gareth Sayers and Gareth Gilchrist nip into second overall at the last gasp. McGarrity dropped to third with Henry just clinging on to fourth from Stuart Biggerstaff and Anthony Nestor.

In the two-wheel-drive battle, Adrian Grant and Olivia Coulter were enjoying an intense battle with James and Heather Kennedy during the morning’s dry stages. Just a handful of seconds separated the two crews but when the weather took a turn for the worse and the heavens opened, another crew drove themselves into contention.

Stephen Whitford and Jonny Hart were utterly impressive in the wet conditions. They were inch-perfect in their Nissan Micra and started taking chunks of time out of their Ford Escort MkII counterparts. Whitford raced into the category lead after stage five and sealed the win with his second consecutive fastest stage time over the final test!

The Micra crew claimed 16th overall in the process and won the category by 6.8s from Adrian Grant and Olivia Chambers. James and Heather Kennedy were 3.6s further adrift in third, with Colin Price and Bill Regan fourth ahead of Conor and Katie Wilson.

Round 3, Maiden City Motor Club, Eakin Bros BJT Maiden City Stages.

The Shakleton Complex was yet again the venue for this single venue stage rally, and it was Derek McGarrity and Graham Henderson to take maximum points haul after a frustrating season to date.

Reigning champion, Jonny Greer was leading the event by a small margin from a very hard charging McGarrity, but on the fourth stage his Citroen C3 Rally 2 succumbed to a broken manifold. Getting the car to the finish line, DGM Sport patched the C3 up in the hope it would last the event.

Sadly though, Greer was forced to retire after the penultimate stage allowing McGarrity some breathing space heading into the final test. Under pressure from Gareth Sayers, Derek almost threw the win away with a half spin, but thankfully he held on for his first win of the year.

Arriving home in third overall, Desi Henry and Paddy Robinson pulled out all the stops to take the final podium position at the last gasp. They spent the day fine-tuning the setup of their Citroen and a final stage charge saw them set fastest time to take the position from Aaron McLaughlin and Darren Curran.

In the two-wheel-drive category, Damien Tourish and Brendan McElhinney secured the award as well as 11th overall in their Escort MkII. John and David Bonner were second in the category while Conor Curley and Nigel Frazer completed the top three.

Round 4, Magherafelt and District Motor Club, ‘Go’ Tour of the Sperrins.

Former Irish Tarmac Rally Champion, Garry Jennings won the event with Rory Kennedy calling the notes, but it was Greer to take maximum championship points from this, the first closed road rally of the McGrady Insurance backed season.

Despite taking an early lead, Greer couldn’t sustain a pace that would keep Jennings adrift. and the Carryduff driver fell into second overall after the third test of the day. Hoping to regain some lost time after service, Jennings pulled out all the stops to tale his first rally win in four over years.

In third overall, Desi Henry’s day was thwarted by a bad tyre choice for the morning loop of stages. He was expecting a little rain, but the rain failed to transpire, leaving the Portglenone driver struggling to find enough grip with his softer compound tyres. He changed his tyres at service, but the damage had been done and third was as far as he could climb.

In the two-wheel-drive category, it looked as though David Bogie was on course for the win in his freshly built Escort MkII. After the first loop, he led Declan McNaughton and Mark Henry by six seconds. Then McNaughton hit trouble on stage four, losing nearly 20 seconds.

Suddenly, Bogie’s advantage had extended to 17 seconds over Camillus Bradley but the Scot’s hopes of a debut win for the new car were soon dashed when a mechanical issue sidelined the Escort. That let Bradley and navigator Crawford Henderson into the lead by 3.9s from Frank and Lauren Kelly.

However, the Kelly’s had other ideas and pulled out all the stops on the final stage to secure a last gasp category win! Camillus Bradley and Crawford Henderson had to settle for second while Alexander Cochrane and Connor Dunlop completed the top three ahead of Declan McNaughton and Mark Henry.

Round 5, Ballynahinch and District & Rathfriland Motor Club, Carryduff Forklift Down Rally.

With just seven points separating the top three drivers after drop scores were considered heading into the last round on some of the finest roads Co Down has to offer, the title could very easily have gone one of three ways.

Cathan McCourt and Brian Hoy won the Carryduff Forklift Down Rally but fourth overall for Jonny Greer sealed a fourth McGrady Insurance N.I. Rally Championship title for the Carryduff driver!

Greer entered the rally knowing that he needed a top five points scoring position to secure his fourth success. Navigated by Niall Burns, it transpired to be a tricky day for the crew that saw them overshoot into a field during the fourth stage. After that incident, they did their best to keep their noses clean until the finish, eventually coming home in fourth.

Desi Henry and Paddy Robinson finished second overall and claimed maximum NI Championship points after a sterling drive, promoting them to second overall in the championship ahead of Derek McGarrity who had to settle for third at the end of the season.

In the two-wheel category things were tantalisingly close, with a mere three points separating the top three drivers of Drew Stewart, Adrian Grant and Conor Wilson. It was Drew Stewart to take the most points from the final round, securing his championship win.

Olivia Coulter navigated Adrian Grant home in second, sealing second overall in the series, just four points off Stewart. Both crews driving Ford Escort MkII’s. Whilst third at the end of the season went to Conor Wilson driving his Ford Fiesta Rally 4.

2023 McGrady Insurance Motorsport UK NI Rally Championship standings:

Drivers top 10:

1 – Jonny Greer
2 – Desi Henry
3 – Derek McGarrity
4 – Aaron McLaughlin
4 – Stuart Biggerstaff
6 – Michael McGarrity
7 – Jason Dickson
8 – Darren McKelvey
9 – Chris McGurk
10 – Joseph McGonigle

Co-drivers top 10:

1 – Paddy Robinson
2 – Graham Henderson
3 – Anthony Nestor
4 – Darren Curran
5 – Damian Garvey
6 – Dean O’Sullivan
7 – Niall Burns
8 – David White
9 – Ciaran Geaney
10 – Olivia Chambers


1 – Drew Stewart
2 – Adrian Grant
3 – Conor Wilson

FIA Two-Wheel-Drive:

1 – Conor Wilson
2 – Michael Nutt
3 – Sean Scanlon

Group N:

1 – Sean Scanlon
2 – Marshall Kennedy


1 – Conor Wilson
2 – Sean Scanlon
3 – Michael McGarrity


1 – Jimmy Mills
2 – Drew Wylie
3 – Jonni McDaid

Ladies Driver:

1 – Emma McKinstry
2 – Michelle Morelli

Ladies Co-Driver:

1 – Olivia Chambers
2 – Katie Wilson
3 – Wendy Blackledge


Graham is a photojournalist and motoring writer with over 20 varied years of coverage from manufacturer press launches to international motorsport and motoring events throughout the world. Graham is a full member of the Guild of Motoring Writers and Ulster Motor Writers Association.