Jonny Greer kept his nose clean on an incredibly wet Loughgall Stages Rally to claim his second Northern Ireland Rally Championship win of the season. Greer’s 6.4-second victory over Desi Henry strengthens the Citroen driver’s lead in the NI series.
The rally-long battle between Greer and Henry was much more intense than the finishing margin suggests. It was Henry’s Hyundai i20 R5 that started quickest, setting the fastest time on his first-ever run through Loughgall’s 3.3-mile stage.
Henry’s rally lead was short-lived as a fuel pump issue cost him six seconds on the next test. The Dogleap Rally winner didn’t get a chance to complete stage three as his car problems continued.
Henry was given a lifeline, however, as the stage was red-flagged minutes after it had started.
Five crews made it through the third stage and it looked as though their times would be cancelled. Fastest times on the next two stages left Henry 0.1 seconds behind Greer with one stage remaining.
However, the rally organisers deemed their original stage three decision to be incorrect. Instead it was decided that the crews who didn’t complete the stage would be given notional times.
The notional time was 12.6 seconds slower than Greer’s benchmark pace meaning Henry started the final stage down in third and 12.7 seconds off the rally lead.
A final stage win for Henry was enough to secure second but in the end Greer’s consistency was enough to seal the Carryduff man’s second win of the year.
“I think every stage that we had a run at, we were quickest,” said Henry. “We had a bit of a fuel pump problem and when we clocked into stage three the car started giving problems.
“Luckily the stage was cancelled and we thought going into the last stage there was only 0.1 seconds between us and Jonny.
“But we actually went in [to the last stage] in third place and ended up jumping into second.
“It was a great rally though, I really enjoyed it with the really tricky conditions that we ended up with.”
As for Greer, he was happy to win an event that looked tricky from the outset.
“The conditions were very difficult today,” said Greer. “I struggled this morning with the car’s set-up but I got more comfortable as the day went on.
“We had a great race with the guys all day and a big thanks to everyone involved in the event.”
Stephen Wright rounded out the Loughgall Stages Rally podium in a position, barring the stage three confusion, he held most of the day.
The County Monaghan driver had a tank-slapping moment on the final stage and admitted it was likely the reason he lost second to Henry.
Aidan Wray was another first-timer at Loughgall as he made it an R5 top four in his Ford Fiesta.
Reigning Loughgall Stages Rally winner Damian Toner finished an impressive fifth overall in his Ford Escort Mk2. The local driver was out to show his four-wheel-drive rivals how to master the country park stages and his result in the wet conditions was a great feat.
Barry Morris finished nine seconds behind Toner in his Darrian T90.
Toner’s two-wheel-drive win rarely looked in doubt but for a few glimpses of Jason Black’s brilliance onboard his Toyota Starlet.
A first stage spin on a tight square junction put Black on the back foot from the off. A fightback on the next couple of runs, including a fourth-fastest time overall put Black within four seconds of Toner.
The young Armagh driver clipped a kerb on the rally’s penultimate stage, putting a tyre of its rim and the two-wheel-drive race to an early end. Black and co-driver Karl Egan still managed to win Class 6 and finish within the top ten.
Outside the top 10, Aaron McLaughlin and Darren Curran were left rueing a jump-start on stage three. They incurred a one-minute penalty which ultimately dropped them out of a potential fifth-placed finish to 13th overall.
Peter Bennett and Joe Comerford retired their Skoda Fabia S2000 after clipping a tree with a rear-wheel on stage one.
Nicky Caughey and Graeme Stewart retired their Evo with mechanical trouble after stage three while Arnie Lutton and Safron Thomas, who made her return to navigating for the first time in more than 10 years, were forced out with driveshaft trouble on stage four.
Competitors can now enjoy a two-month break before they are back in action at October’s Tour of the Sperrins Rally. The penultimate round of the N.I. Championship is due to take place on 16 October.
Loughgall Stages Rally 2021 Top Ten:
1 Jonny Greer / Kirsty Riddick (Citroen C3) 24m29.8s
2 Desi Henry / Mark Henry (Hyundai i20 R5) +6.4s
3 Stephen Wright / Liam Moynihan (Ford Fiesta) +9.1s
4 Aidan Wray / Kieran McGrath (Ford Fiesta) +33.0s
5 Damian Toner / Denver Rafferty (Ford Escort MkII) +39.2s
6 Barry Morris / Dylan Doonan (Darrian T90) +50.1s
7 Derek McGarrity / Paddy Robinson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m00.3s
8 Jason Black / Karl Egan (Toyota Starlet) +1m06.4s
9 Peadar Hurson / Damian Connolly (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m11.4s
10 John Bradley / Ryan Crozier (Ford Escort MkII) +1m13.4s
Photos by Adam Hall