Desi Henry was the beneficiary of a dramatic final stage on Saturday’s Dogleap Stages Rally. Jonny Greer had all but sealed his second win of the season before a puncture handed Henry the lead with a handful of kilometres remaining on round two of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship.
Torrential summer rain showers throughout the second half of the rally fuelled the drama with plenty of incidents down the near 100 car field. Rally winner Henry survived his own scare on Dogleap’s fourth test.
He was lucky to be in the rally after an altercation with a bale punctured a hole in his Hyundai i20 R5’s radiator. The all-Henry crew finished the test with steam billowing from their engine bay.
Thankfully, the Mac Sport service crew was able to fix the problem in time for the fifth stage to salvage what they expected to be a runner-up finish. That was the case until Greer hit trouble on the fateful final test.
The Citroen C3 R5 pilot had led the Shackleton-based rally from the first stage. Greer and Kirsty Riddick had won each of the five stages to hold a 12-second lead with one test to go.
Not far into Stage 6, the Bishopscourt Stages winner hit a pothole with such force that it punctured a front tyre. As Greer understeered around the track, he was caught and passed by a couple of crews and the resultant time loss of over one minute dropped him to fourth overall.
Aaron McLaughlin, who inherited second position, was another spin survivor – his moment occuring on Stage 4.
The final podium spot went to Stephen Wright, a copy of his Bishopscourt result two months earlier. They too were lucky to reach the finish after sliding into bales on the opening stage.
Luckily, the resultant damage was only superficial but the incident left them languishing in eighth position.
“It was a big spin in third or fourth gear,” Wright said. “It will look good on video if anyone has caught it.”
Fifth went to Jason Mitchell and Peter Ward just over one second behind Greer. It was a case of ‘what might have been’ for the crew as they were also slowed by a puncture during the final stage. They still managed to set a third-fastest time despite their deflated rear tyre.
Completing the top six, Derek and Mark McGeehan had made a last gasp effort to overhaul Derek McGarrity and Paddy Robinson. The McGeehans thought their chances were over when they caught a car on the stage but they didn’t know that McGarrity had caught two cars – including Greer’s struggling Citroen.
In the end, it was the McGeehans who claimed the position, with McGarrity forced to settle for seventh after a day of struggling with a badly misfiring Fiesta WRC.
“I think we must have lost around 10 to 15 seconds per stage today,” McGarrity said. “The car was fine on the last stage but then we caught a couple of cars. Just one of those days.”
Barry Morris and Dylan Doonan continued their two-wheel-drive domination in Ballykelly. The class winners in Bishopscourt finished over a minute and a half ahead of John Bradley’s Ford Escort Mk2 this time around.
With Morris’s Darrian T90 well out in front Bradley’s focus was firmly fixed on John Bonner’s Escort. Bonner was chasing hard during the second half of the rally with two top ten overall times to round out the day.
It wasn’t enough to overall Bradley however who held onto his position by half a second.
James and Heather Kennedy were next in line and claimed fourth in the two-wheel-drive category from Gareth Irwin and Justin McCauley. Irwin nipped in front of Andrew Gillespie and Joe McNulty by two-tenths of a second at the last gasp.
Monaghan’s Josh Moffett and Andy Hayes had been running as high as third overall in their Fiesta WRC until their car lapsed onto three cylinders, forcing them out of the event. Peter Bennett and Simon Jones had been just outside the top 10 until their Skoda Fabia S2000 punctured a front wheel on stage five.
Damian Toner was forced out on the opening stage with a broken halfshaft and Marty Toner dropped down the order when his BMW went off the road for around one minute on Stage 5. Niall Henry retired his Fiesta with clutch trouble and Sean Devine had an eventful day with a couple of spins and an intercom that stopped working.
Next up is Loughgall Stages Rally, based in the beautiful confines of County Armagh’s Loughgall Country Park on 21 August. And wait for it… spectators are welcome!
Dogleap Rally Results (Top 10)
1 Desi Henry / Mark Henry (Hyundai i20 R5) 42m55.2s
2 Aaron McLaughlin / Darren Curran (Fiesta R5) +29.0s
3 Stephen Wright / Liam Moynihan (Fiesta R5) +39.5s
4 Jonny Greer / Kirsty Riddick (Citroen C3) +57.4s
5 Jason Mitchell / Peter Ward (Fiesta R5) +58.6s
6 Derek McGeehan / Mark McGeehan (Mini WRC) +1m12.6s
7 Derek McGarrity / Paddy Robinson (Fiesta WRC) +1m14.1s
8 Barry Morris / Dylan Doonan (Darrian T90) +1m29.5s
9 Peadar Hurson / Damien Connolly (Fiesta) +1m32.9s
10 Ian Millar / Ronan O’Neill (Fiesta R5) +2m37.1s
Photos by NI Rally Championship and Kevin Glendinning