Greer Claims 2017 N.I. Championship Title at Sunset Stages!

Jonny Greer Image: Phil Stewart

Saturday 4 November transpired to be a crowning day for Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick as second overall at the McGeehan Motorsport Sunset Stages Rally was enough to clinch the 2017 McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Rally Championship title!

Greer’s Citroen DS3 R5, which is prepared by the Greer family DGM Sport team, had run faultlessly and the crew had actually taken a narrow 0.3 second lead going into the 10th and final stage. However, with the weather taking a turn for the worse, Greer opted to ease off the gas and secure the points he needed to claim the title.

“We had the narrowest of leads but then on the start-line the rain came pelting down and the track was like a bottle,” Greer admitted. “We knew the championship was the important thing so we just chilled out a bit and got round.”

Derek McGarrity and James O’Reilly didn’t need an invitation to snatch back time and took the rally victory by three seconds in their Skoda Fabia R5. McGarrity, the seven times Northern Ireland Champion, demonstrated increased confidence aboard his R5 car throughout the day. He had taken the rally lead on the second test at Superdrive Motorsports Centre and led throughout, only breifly falling behind Greer again after the penultimate stage.

However, despite his rally win, it wasn’t enough to wrestle the title from rival Greer. In the end, McGarrity finished the season just one point behind his rival, while Greer becomes the first ‘new’ winner of the series since Stuart Biggerstaff was crowned in 2010.

“We didn’t anticipate that we would ever be in this position at the start of the year,” a jubilant Greer said afterwards. “We didn’t initially set out to do the championship, but when we won the first round, we sort of carried on.”

He continued: “I think that actually makes it feel more special for me, as we went through the year the more interesting and enjoyable the whole thing became. It’s the first time I have contested the whole series, and some events I hadn’t done before.”

“I had often heard my dad talking about some of the stages on these rallies, and we have been competing on the famous stages in England and Wales for so many years so I wasn’t sure how they would compare. However, when I actually drove some of the stages at home I understood why they had been talking about them for so long!”

He added: “I have really enjoyed the race with Derek and the camaraderie was good. He is the first person to congratulate you if you have done well on a rally and I’m sure he will come out fighting again next year.”

There were other battles waged out on the final round and Derek McGeehan took the Mini WRC to a fine third place, with Gareth Sayers’ interesting Ford Fiesta Proto in fourth. Alan Carmichael’s fifth place in the S14 Impreza helped the Ballymoney driver claim third in the championship, whilst Conor McCrossan took a fine sixth in his Super 2000 Skoda Fabia.

Niall Henry and Aaron Johnston were seventh in their class eight Evo 10, enabling them to secure the class in the championship ahead of the Evo 2 piloted by Jonathan MacDonald and Nadene McAllister.  They were 14th overall and even managed to set a sixth fastest overall time on the final stage – a great way to finish the season.

In a fine eighth after a long lay-off from rallying was 24-year old Amy Cox in a Skoda Fabia Super 2000, kindly loaned by the McCormack family, with their daughter Caron also in the co-driver’s seat. Just seven seconds behind in ninth was top two-wheel drive crew James and Heather Kennedy in their Mk2 Escort. James also claimed the coveted N.I two wheel drive title, while navigator Heather just missed out on picking up the Ladies Co-Driver award by half a point from Kirsty Riddick.

10th overall was a great result for Joe Hegarty and David Turkington in their Evo 6, whilst the top Group N runners fell by the way-side with mechanical issues. Clive Kilpatrick wrapped up the Group N championship after a good year despite a retirement on the Sunset with a broken gear-box mounting. N.I. Junior Champion Gareth Deazley, who was fresh from a great Wales Rally GB adventure, also retired his Honda Civic with transmission issues.

There was drama in the Historic category as Drew Wylie’s challenged sadly expired like his BDA engine on stage one, and Raymond Johnston had to retire with clutch failure on stage six in his similar RS1800. However, the Fermanagh driver had enough points to become the new champion from Philip Wylie who also suffered delays on the rally. Armoy’s John Adams was top Historic finisher home in his class 11 MK2 Escort.

Arguably the drive of the rally came from local youngster Philip White. The former Junior 1000 frontrunner powered his now 1400cc Nissan Micra to an excellent 20th overall and first in class three. Other class winners on the Sunset event included Michael Nutt (Class 1), Kyle White (class 4), David Christie (Class 5) and Greg McCormack (Class 12).

Hats off to Magherafelt Motor Club for running their reserve championship round. The Sunset Stages only became a full round of the series after the cancellation of the Down Rally and a lot of work went in to get the Sunset Stages, which was a brand new event, off the ground in a relatively short period of time.

McGeehan Motorsport Sunset Stages Rally 2017 Results

1 Derek McGarrity/James O’Reilly (Škoda Fabia R5) 20m 31.2s
2 Jonathan Greer/Kirsty Riddick (Citroën DS3 R5) +0:03.1
3 Derek McGeehan/Gary McElhinney (Mini WRC) +0:30.5
4 Gareth Sayers/Gareth Gilchrist (Ford Fiesta 4X4) +0:45.6
5  Alan Carmichael/Ivor Lamont (Subaru Impreza WRC) +0:47.7
6 Conor McCrossan/Conor Murphy (Škoda Fabia S2000) +0:54.1
7 Niall Henry/Aaron Johnston (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 10) +1:19.5
8 Amy Cox/Caron McCormack (Škoda Fabia S2000) +1:19.8
9  James Kennedy/Heather Kennedy (Ford Escort MkII) +1:26.2
10 Joe Hegarty/David Turkington (Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI) +1:32.0

2017 McGrady Insurance MSA Northern Ireland Rally Championship Top Five

1 Jonny Greer              59pts
2 Derek McGarrity      58
3 Alan Carmichael      40
4 Kenny McKinstry      28
5 Peadar Hurson         25

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