The opening round of the 2014 McGrady Insurance MSA ANICC Northern Ireland Stage Rally Championship was held at Bishopscourt on Saturday with a superb entry, and last year’s Northern Ireland Rally Champion, Derek McGarrity won at the wheel of his newly acquired Mini WRC.
However it was not all plain sailing for the Glengormley driver, as on stage one the red Mini spluttered around. The car had overheated on the start line and went into safe mode.
“It was not such a good start, but it got better, I really enjoyed the stages and indeed the car,” he said. “The braking and chassis were superb and I love to drive anything around here anyway, it is a great venue.”
Luck was in for McGarrity, as the times for stage one were cancelled after a timing error, and there was good fortune also for fellow Mini WRC driver Derek McGeehan who had a problem at the stage split junction.
A pattern began to emerge on stage two with McGarrity stealing over five seconds on second placed Kevin Barrett in his S14 Subaru who was to have one of his best runs on a Northern Ireland Championship rally to hold onto second place throughout the 14 stages with co-driver Lesley McGaffin on the pace-notes.
Ballymoney’s Alan Carmichael took an early third in another Mini WRC, but his team-mate Derek McGeehan would over-take him during the day to finish fourth.
Portglenone’s Desi Henry in his S9 Subaru WRC soon moved into third place, despite a dodgy third gear.
There was a great race for fifth decided by just one second between Alan Carmichael and Emma McKinstry. Despite a big charge from the Banbridge lady in her S14 Subaru, it was decided in favour of the Mini man.
In sixth was Martin Cairns in the third S14 Subaru WRC, just seven seconds ahead of former NI Rally Champion George Robinson.
Ninth overall and winner of the Carryduff Forklift two-wheel drive award for the day was Bushmills farmer Alastair Cochrane in his MK2 Ford Escort.
English visitor Ray Brammer completed the top ten in his Subaru S8 WRC, ahead of Group N winner Pat O’Connell from Tipperary in his Mitsubishi Evo 9.
Behind O’Connell was 17-year-old Kyle White in his Citroen C2 R2 Max. Last year’s Junior 1000 Rally Challenge runner-up was the second two-wheel drive finisher and first in the 1600cc class.
For McGarrity however, it was a superb start to his Northern Ireland Championship campaign, with the next round on the closed roads of the Circuit of Ireland at Easter.