Round three of the McGrady Insurance MSA Northern Ireland Stage Rally Championship gets into gear this Saturday, June 9th, in the beautiful Ring of Gullion and surrounding areas.
This designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty provides a stunning backdrop to the Modern Tyres Mourne Rally and Northern Ireland’s leading rally talent will lock horns over eight challenging mountain stages. With headquarters based at the Mourne Country Hotel in Newry, more than 40 crews in a variety of machinery will tackle the tarmac lanes in high-powered rally cars.
Championship leader, Derek McGarrity, starts the event with an eight-point series lead. He is set to drive his S14 specification Subaru Impreza World Rally Car and is the odds-on favourite for securing another maximum points haul in his bid for an eighth NI crown.
Some of his main title opposition are missing from this weekend’s entry list including Mini WRC pilot Alan Carmichael. Despite retiring from round two, the Ballymena man holds third in the series and although he has opted to miss the Mourne Rally, he intends to contest the remaining Championship rounds.
The rally could throw up a few surprises in the top 10 with a strong Group N and two-wheel-drive entry. The Group N contingent includes James Laverty, who holds second in the NI series standings. He will face stiff opposition from Gary Rodgers, Brian McFall and Paul Britton while the two-wheel-drive section features an array of machinery from potent Escorts to Sunbeams, Starlets and Civics.
David Armstrong, who secured victory on the event back in the late ‘90s with a Sierra Cosworth, has entered in his Escort MkII. He has sealed a number of top three finishes in recent years including second overall in 2014 when he finished just nine seconds behind McGarrity. Could 2018 be his year?
Norman Armstrong is another former Mourne Rally winner and others worth watching include Camillus Bradley, James Kennedy and Damian Toner, all in Escorts. Stephen Smith has his potent Honda Civic back in action and Kyle White is making a return with his Peugeot 208 R2 after his accident at round two.
Young gun Michael McGarrity is wheeling out a Citroen DS3 R3 and if Peter Bennett can get the hang of his class eight Evo 9 through the Mourne lanes, the recently turned 18-year-old has the potential to spring a surprise.
The rally features a total of eight stages in Slieve Gullion and Camlough while competitors will get a chance to fettle their cars after every two stages in the Killeavy GAA Club service park. The first car will leave the start ramp at 9am before tackling the first stage at 9.15am. Event updates will be available online at facebook.com/nirallying and www.nirallychampionship.com.