The Carryduff Forklift MSA Northern Ireland Rally Championship returns to action on Saturday with the Omagh based McKelvey Bushwhacker Rally hosting the penultimate round of this year’s championship.
Almost 100 entries have been received for this forestry event with all of the main championship contenders ready to commence battle over 10 special stages.
Championship leader Derek McGarrity has entered in an S10 specification Subaru Impreza WRC and having emerged victorious at the Bushwhacker in 2012, he is hot favourite to secure another win this year.
If he is successful, that would put him one step closer to another Championship title. He leads the series by two points from Derek McGeehan but if McGeehan fails to score this weekend, second or higher for McGarrity would put the title beyond reach of his rival.
However, McGeehan has no plans of failing to finish in his Mini WRC.
He will be brimming with confidence having won the Ulster National Rally, although the loose gravel roads will provide an entirely different challenge.
He finished seventh overall in 2012 but really needs to finish higher this year to keep his title hopes alive.
Jonny Leonard holds third in the title race and still has a mathematical chance of securing the crown. He trails leader McGarrity by 16 points but with 24 points still up for grabs. Now that the series is moving on to gravel, it will be interesting to see how he fares against the opposition.
Other notable entries include the Triton Showers Subaru Impreza WRC belonging to Kevin Barrett.
Both James Gillen and Martin Cairns are also entered in Subaru Impreza World Rally Cars, while Michael O’Brien will tackle the stages in his Focus WRC and Liam Regan is set to bring his four-wheel-drive Peugeot 206 to the event. Desi Henry will also be one to watch having switched to a Group A Mitsubishi Evo.
The Group N category is well supported by a host of Mitsubishi Evos and Subaru Imprezas, including Donegal International Rally winner Sam Moffett and his brother Josh, both in Evo 9 rally cars.
Kieron Graffin is the current category leader in the series and he confirmed earlier this week that he will drive a Mitsubishi Evo 9.
There is a strong entry amongst the two-wheel-drive crews. Frank Kelly was last year’s 2WD winner and he will bid to defend his title. However, Vivian Hamill and Adrian Hetherington, who finished second and third respectively in 2012 are both on the entry list.
Competitors leave Omagh’s Silverbirch Hotel shortly after 9am on Saturday morning and they will return to the hotel where the event winners will be crowned shortly after 5pm.