Callum Devine and Brian Hoy claimed their third rally win in a row on Saturday’s Tour of the Sperrins. Devine finished 34.7 seconds ahead of 2018 winner Desi Henry. Jonny Greer finished third to seal Northern Ireland Rally Championship honours.
The Tour of the Sperrins’ victory margin may have ended above the 30-second mark but Henry and Philip Allen both threatened Devine’s run of rally wins.
Devine led the three local drivers after a slippery opening stage before Henry jumped ahead on the next test, Davagh. The Hyundai i20 man’s lead wouldn’t last long, however, when he overshot and stalled on Straw Mountain, the last stage before the rally’s midday service.
11 seconds separated the top three at the halfway point with Allen now Devine’s nearest challenger, eight seconds behind.
A stunning stage win by Allen after service cut Devine’s advantage to under five seconds. Nine seconds now separated the top three crews with two Sperrins’ tests remaining.
Rain on the penultimate Davagh stage was to be the defining moment of the Tour of the Sperrins Rally. Allen crashed out of second position. His impressive drive alongside co-driver Eugene Donnelly came to a tough end when his Ford Fiesta slid wide on a left-hander. The Rally2 Fiesta’s rear right corner struck a telegraph pole and rolled down into a field.
Unaware of the drama behind, Devine set a blistering time on the treacherous 12-kilometre stage. The Claudy driver was 10.6 seconds quicker than Henry who now held second overall, 19.6 seconds behind.
Henry put the time loss down to his decision to switch to slicks ahead of the stage. He was unaware how wet it was going to be.
Garry Jennings was another to get caught out on slick tyres. It hadn’t been the best day for Jennings who suffered a puncture and driveshaft failure on the Tour of the Sperrins’ first loop of stages.
Despite the drama, Jennings found himself in fifth overall after Allen’s exit and an early stage five moment for Fiesta rival Stephen Wright.
Peadar Hurson finished in fourth, one place ahead of Jennings. The Ford Fiesta WRC pilot set a rapid second-fastest time on the final Sperrins stage of the day, just 0.5-seconds slower than rally-winner Devine.
Hurson showed impressive turns of pace on his first closed-road rally since 2020 but a couple of overshoots and stalls on both passes of Davagh cost him a place on the podium.
It was Greer and Kirsty Riddick who grabbed the final podium place behind Henry and Devine. A controlled drive was the Citroen crew’s order of the day as they only needed a top-five finish to clinch their second NI Rally Championship title.
“We decided to contest the Northern Ireland Championship this year to get ourselves up to speed in the Citroen,” revealed Greer. “We’ve basically had to start from zero to develop the car but everyone has done a fantastic job.
“The opening rounds went well so we just had to get to the finish.”
Wright was Greer’s most likely championship challenger heading into the Sperrins. The Monaghan driver, and reigning Northern Irish Rally Champion, was unable to commit to the front-end pace throughout Saturday and eventually finished in eighth.
But the stars of the Tour of the Sperrins was in-form duo Devine and Hoy. Four stage wins from six clinched their third rally win from three in Ireland so far this year.
“We’re delighted!” Devine said. “The guys were going hard today so they weren’t making it easy for me. The last stage was really slippy so we just tried to manage it as best we could.”
Tour of the Sperrins’ two-wheel-drive section was dominated by Scotland’s David Bogie and County Antrim co-driver John Rowan. Hot off a similarly strong performance on the Mull Rally a week earlier, the Ford Escort crew finished seventh overall ahead of several R5 cars.
Martin McCormack had held second in two-wheel-drive before their rally ended on stage five. A quick time from Jason Black on the same test moved his Starlet ahead of Camillus Bradley’s Escort.
Black’s second top-ten time on the bounce sealed his runner-up finish in two-wheel-drive to round out a positive year in the NI Rally Championship.
Mk2 Escorts driven by Gareth Irwin and John Bradley completed two-wheel-drive’s top five.
Barry Morris finished a few places further back, enough to provisionally claim NI Rally’s two-wheel-drive championship.
Just inside the top twenty, Jody McManus was the fastest front-wheel-drive competitor, sealing the Northern Irish Class 4 title in the process.
Photos courtesy of Northern Ireland Rally Championship (Graham Baalham-Curry) and Kevin Glendinning