Jonny Greer and Niall Burns claimed a start to finish victory at today’s Race and Rally Bishopscourt Stages, round two of the McGrady Insurance Motorsport UK Northern Ireland Rally Championship.
Driving their Citroen C3, Greer laid down the marker from the outset, quickly edging out a lead over the chasing VW Polo GTi belonging to Derek McGarrity and Graham Henderson. McGarrity’s only glimmer of hope came on the third of six stages when he set fastest time, reducing the gap to less than three seconds.
However, it soon transpired that Greer had been held up by another competing car and was back on form through stage four. As rain started pounding the circuit, Greer was firmly back in control. The slippery conditions suited the rally leader and in the end, he raced home to a comfortable win of more than 20 seconds.
Derek McGarrity had looked set to seal second overall but he was coming under increasing pressure from Desi Henry and Paddy Robinson. Going into the final stage, only 4.5s separated the two crews. And in a strange set of circumstances, neither of them sealed second overall.
Near the end of the stage, Desi Henry’s Citroen broke a shaft. He slowly struggled towards the finish line and soon afterward, Derek McGarrity – who started the stage behind him – had caught up with his rival. With nowhere to go, McGarrity’s Volkswagen hit the back of the Citroen and pushed it over the finish line.
The resultant time loss for both crews saw a surprised Gareth Sayers and Gareth Gilchrist nip into second overall at the last gasp. McGarrity dropped to third with Henry just clinging on to fourth from Stuart Biggerstaff and Anthony Nestor. They survived a couple of minor moments to seal another top five finish, narrowly missing out on grabbing fourth from Desi Henry at the last gasp.
Joe McGonigle and Ciaran Geaney had to settle for sixth on this occasion. A stage five spin and stall in tricky conditions really thwarted their progress but they were not on their own. That same stage saw Aaron McLaughlin, who had held fourth overall, also lose time with a spin. He encountered more trouble later in the stage which cost more time while Jason Dickson, who had been seventh, went off the track and dropped down the order.
In the end, it was Ian Dickson and Kenny Bustard who secured seventh with Michael McGarrity and Damien Garvey completing the top eight overall.
In McGrady Insurance NI Championship terms, Jonny Greer has secured another maximum points haul to extend his lead while third on the event for Derek McGarrity was enough to secure second-placed championship points.
In the two-wheel-drive battle, Adrian Grant and Olivia Coulter were enjoying an intense battle with James and Heather Kennedy during the morning’s dry stages. Just a handful of seconds separated the two crews but when the weather took a turn for the worse and the heavens opened, another crew drove themselves into contention.
Stephen Whitford and Jonny Hart were utterly impressive in the wet conditions. They were inch-perfect in their Nissan Micra and started taking chunks of time out of their Ford Escort MkII counterparts. Whitford raced into the category lead after stage five and sealed the win with his second consecutive fastest stage time over the final test!
The Micra crew claimed 16th overall in the process and won the category by 6.8s from Adrian Grant and Olivia Chambers. James and Heather Kennedy were 3.6s further adrift in third, with Colin Price and Bill Regan fourth ahead of Conor and Katie Wilson.
Round three of the McGrady Insurance backed series takes place on 22 April with the Maiden City Stages. For more information, visit nirallychampionship.com.
Bishopscourt Results (Top 6 Overall)
1 Jonny Greer/Niall Burns Citroen C3
2 Gareth Sayers/Gareth Gilchrist Ford Fiesta +22.0s
3 Derek McGarrity/Graham Henderson VW Polo GTi +25.9s
4 Desi Henry/Paddy Robinson Citroen C3 +59.8s
5 Stuart Biggerstaff/Anthony Nestor Ford Fiesta +1m01.1s
6 Joe McGonigle/Ciaran Geaney Ford Fiesta +1m23.4s
Words: JONATHAN MACDONALD / NI RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY