R3: Derek McGarrity wins at Shackleton and takes Championship lead!

Derek McGarrity and Graham Henderson secured victory at the Eakin Bros BJT Maiden City Stages Rally, round three of the McGrady Insurance Motorsport UK Northern Ireland Rally Championship!

Organised by Maiden City Motor Club and based within the Shackleton Complex in Ballykelly, McGarrity secured his first NI Championship rally win since 2020 when he headed home his nearest rivals by just seven tenths of a second.

Driving his VW Polo GTi R5, the Glengormley driver looked set to cruise to victory after Jonny Greer was forced into retirement with a mechanical issue during the penultimate stage. McGarrity entered the final test with a lead of 11.9s over Gareth Sayers and Gareth Gilchrist but a half spin almost put him into the clutches of the hard-charging Sayers. However, the rally leader managed to cling on and secure the rally spoils by less than a second.

“It was my fault,” McGarrity said when explaining the incident at the stage finish. “The car just got away from me over some gravel.”

The event had started well for former champion McGarrity. He set the pace to take an early lead after the opening stage, despite losing some time behind another competing crew. The same problem occurred on stage two and this time it was Jonny Greer and Niall Burns who were fastest, moving them into the lead. McGarrity was left a little frustrated after losing nearly five seconds.

“We keep losing time behind another car on the second lap,” McGarrity said. “I’m not saying we would have beaten Jonny’s stage time but we would have been a lot closer.”

Greer set the pace again on stage three to extend his lead over McGarrity to 2.9s but his rally was set to unravel on the following test. As he powered his Citroen C3 around the venue, it quickly became obvious that something wasn’t right. The car was down on power and Greer’s father, Davy, who was watching from the sidelines, immediately suspected a broken manifold.

A panicked Greer and Burns eventually arrived at the stage finish with a 15 second time loss. They rushed to their service crew who confirmed a broken manifold and set about implementing some makeshift repairs. The crew managed to get back out for the fifth stage but it quickly transpired that those repairs were not enough and the Citroen ground to a halt.

With reigning champion Greer out of the rally, it looked as though Derek McGarrity was going to be able to coast to victory. He had almost 12 seconds in hand over Gareth Sayers and Gareth Gilchrist but a final stage spin saw him almost succumb to Sayers’ Fiesta. However, he did enough to seal the win while Sayers was left pondering what could have been.

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.

Meanwhile, a three-way battle for fifth overall was eventually decided in favour of Alan and Lewis Carmichael. They nipped in front of Daniel and Michael Doherty after the final stage, while Stuart Biggerstaff and Anthony Nestor had to settle for seventh. Unofficial timing suggested that they were two seconds faster than their rivals midway through the stage but an off-road excursion put an end to their hopes of a fifth-placed finish.

Michael McGarrity and Damien Garvey claimed eighth overall in their Fiesta, finishing 1.3s ahead of Joe Hegarty and David Turkington, while Darren McKelvey and Dean O’Sullivan completed the top 10.

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.

In championship terms, Derek McGarrity now leads the McGrady Insurance series by seven points from Stuart Biggerstaff, with Aaron McLaughlin third ahead of Michael McGarrity in fourth. Battle resumes at round four’s Tour of the Sperrins Rally on 20 May.

Results (Top 10)

1 Derek McGarrity/Graham Henderson (VW Polo GTi R5) 40m16.9s
2 Gareth Sayers/Gareth Gilchrist (Ford Fiesta Rally2) 40m17.6s
3 Desi Henry/Paddy Robinson (Citroen C3 Rally2) 40m26.4s
4 Aaron McLaughlin/Darren Curran (Ford Fiesta R5) 40m28.0s
5 Alan Carmichael/Lewis Carmichael (Hyundai i20 R5) 40m53.3s
6 Daniel Doherty/Michael Doherty (Ford Fiesta R5) 40m54.5s
7 Stuart Biggerstaff/Anthony Nestor (Ford Fiesta R5) 41m07.0s
8 Michael McGarrity/Damien Garvey (Ford Fiesta R5) 41m27.2s
9 Joe Hegarty/David Turkington (Ford Fiesta R5) 41m28.5s
10 Darren McKelvey/Dean O’Sullivan (Ford Fiesta R5) 41m46.4s

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