Jonny Greer and Kirsty Riddick claimed an impressive 33.3 second win on the first round of this year’s Northern Ireland Rally Championship, the Bishopscourt Stages Rally. It was a perfect debut for their Citroen C3 R5 which romped home ahead of Derek McGarrity’s Ford Focus WRC.
The event organised by Ballynahinch and District Motor Club marked a hugely successful return to action for rallying. It was the first stage rally held in Northern Ireland since March 2020.
McGarrity had been fastest on the opening stage and was one of the favourites for victory but he had no answer to the flying Greer who won the remaining five stages.
It was an impressive victory for Greer, who was slightly apprehensive pre-event, considering the calibre throughout the Bishopscourt entry list. McGarrity was going for his ninth Bishopscourt win in a row while reigning champion Stephen Wright, 2010 champion Stuart Biggerstaff, and three-time champion Kenny McKinstry were all engaging launch control on Saturday morning.
After losing out to McGarrity by 0.8s on Stage 1, Greer upped the ante on Stage 2 to gain a lead he wouldn’t let go.
“I thought we had an OK run on the first stage,” Greer said at the finish. “So we tidied things up a bit on Stage 2. I didn’t expect to be so far ahead on that stage but once we managed to do that, we just had to try and keep doing the same thing again and again!”
Even catching another competitor on stage five failed to slow the Citroen pilot and Greer rallied home to secure a solid victory and maximum championship points.
McGarrity reckoned he struggled a little bit with the size of his car compared to the smaller R5 machinery but second overall in a 16-year-old car was no mean feat.
“We caught a couple of cars during the day but it’s just the nature of the event,” McGarrity said. “We had a small misfire but it wouldn’t have made much difference.”
Desi and Mark Henry held third during the early stages until a front puncture dropped them out of contention. Instead, Stephen Wright and Liam Moynihan took up the mantle and they went on to complete the top three in their Ford Fiesta.
Wright battled with an increasingly fast Phillip Allen and Ian Dickson until a spin and a stall on Stage 5 thwarted Allen’s challenge. A charge on the final reduced the gap to Wright to just four seconds but it wasn’t enough for the Hyundai pilot.
“We threw it away on the fifth stage,” Allen rued, “but that’s the way it goes.”
Aaron McLaughlin managed to fend off a challenge from Stuart Biggerstaff in the closing stages to seal fifth on his first visit to the County Down circuit.
It was a difficult day for Peadar Hurson in his Fiesta WRC but eventually came home in seventh ahead of Niall Henry.
Barry Morris claimed the two-wheel-drive category win after a faultless drive in his Darrian. Morris finished ninth overall, a couple of seconds ahead of Keiron Graffin’s Fiesta R5
Damian Toner tried to keep Morris honest but in the end, the lightweight Darrian proved too much to handle. Morris took two-wheel-drive honours by more than 20 seconds, with Toner second ahead of Jason Black’s Toyota Starlet.
Further down the order, Kenny McKinstry and Dean McDowell struggled to get into a groove with their Impreza WRC. Their event came to an end after Stage 5 when they failed to complete the required number of laps and opted to sit out of the final stage.
There were plenty of dramas throughout the field too. James and Heather Kennedy had to weld part of their steering system, forcing them to complete the event without power steering. A time penalty added to their woes, leaving the two-wheel-drive category hopefuls out of contention for the win.
A heavy landing after a jump burst the radiator in Andrew Bustard’s Evo, dropping him down the order, while Nicky Caughey (Evo) also succumbed to radiator trouble.
Paul Britton slid sideways into some trackside tyres on the opening test, damaging the side of his Subaru, and Peter Bennett (Fabia) endured some car trouble and a puncture that dropped him down the standings.
There were plenty of spins as well with Clive Kilpatrick (Fabia), Stephen Peoples (Escort) and event sponsor Fintan McGrady (Escort) all reporting spins. Gary McEvoy (Evo) lost time with braking issues and Paul McKenna (Evo) was forced out with mechanical issues.
The NI Rally Championship returns in August with another single-event rally at Shackleton before going to Loughgall two weeks later.
Thanks to Northern Ireland Rally Championship and Jonathan MacDonald for a superb press release and photo package.