Henry edges Maiden City Stages by 2.3 seconds

Desi Henry and Paddy Robinson avenged their Circuit of Ireland heartbreak by claiming a 2.3-second victory on the final stage of the Maiden City Stages Rally.

Henry traded places with Cathan McCourt and Liam Moynihan all day. McCourt headed into the last run of Lowertown holding a slender 1.9-second advantage but in the end, a final-stage overshoot proved to be his undoing.

Garry Jennings and Rory Kennedy completed the top three positions after showing improved pace throughout the day in their Ford Fiesta R5.

Henry set an early benchmark on the opening stage of the Eakin Bros backed event. The defending winner was fastest by nine seconds even though he was feeling some brake fade in his Ford Fiesta Rally2.

Irish Tarmac Rally Championship contender Jonny Greer was Henry’s closest rival on Stage 1. Although he was just grateful to make the end of the stage after bottoming his Citroen C3 Rally2 out over a jump before gathering it up sideways down the road.

McCourt was making his maiden appearance in a similar C3 and set a third-fastest time, 1.2 seconds shy of Greer. It would have been even better for the Tyrone man had he not stalled on the start-line of the opener.

Greer bounced back on Stage 2, reducing Henry’s advantage to 3.1 seconds. Henry had two overshoots as he continued to manage his car’s brake fade and consequently could only set the fifth-fastest time.

Stage-winner Greer had his own concerns as he felt the rear of his Citroen was mishandling. In fact, Jason Mitchell was the only driver in the top five without an issue. Mitchell set a time within five seconds of Greer although he admitted he may have been pushing a bit too hard in a bid to impress the spectators at his local rally.

Despite losing his brakes, Jennings went second-fastest to move closer to the leaders while McCourt felt he was too cautious as some sections of the stage had dried since his gravel crew passed earlier in the morning.

Maiden City’s next stage, Altishane, shook the leaderboard up as three of the top R5 cars failed to make the flying finish. Greer was the biggest loss, he was parked up stage-side after clipping his Citroen against a bridge.

Mitchell’s strong asphalt showing came to an end when he crashed into a chicane and got stuck in a ditch. Donagh Kelly completed a trio of retirements on the third stage of the day.

Remarkably, McCourt set his first fastest time even though his intercom wasn’t working for the first two kilometres of Altishane. Henry remained in the lead but lost 0.7 seconds to McCourt after running wide into a bank.

Leading Ford Escort drivers Ryan Loughran and Damien Tourish went third and fourth fastest respectively on the drama-filled stage. It moved Tourish up six places to fourth on the overall leaderboard with the Donegal man eventually finishing the rally top in two-wheel-drive and sixth overall.

Loughran’s time was of little consolation after his challenge barely got going on Stage 1. He punctured on the opener and had to stop to change the wheel losing the guts of three minutes. Loughran went fastest in two-wheel-drive on four of the remaining five stages to move up from 89th to 23rd overall by the end of the rally.

Back at the front, McCourt and Moynihan doubled their stage-winning tally on Stage 4 and in doing so took the lead of the rally with just one loop remaining. Henry was nine seconds off the pace after hitting a rock with his front-left wheel. He subsequently felt a vibration and took it steady in fear of a puncture.

The Rally2 Fiesta pilot bounced back on Maiden City’s penultimate stage to reduce his deficit to McCourt to 1.9 seconds. The stage was a treacherous one as rain fell with crews already on hard compound tyres.

Jennings matched Henry’s fastest time on Stage 5 but he was too far behind to be able to challenge the leaders on Maiden City’s finale.

Despite Henry’s penultimate stage win, McCourt remained the favourite with his 1.9-second lead aided by the fact he blitzed the opposition on its previous running.

But the drama wasn’t over and an overshoot, which McCourt thought cost 10 seconds, ultimately ruined his hopes of a maiden closed-road rally win. Henry’s winning advantage was just 2.3 seconds.

“I’m delighted,” said Henry. “It went right down to the wire on the very last stage.

“We didn’t have a simple day. We had brake issues on the first loop, hit something on the second loop, and ended up damaging the rear hub so we lost some time with that.

“We gave ourselves plenty of work through the day but it was good to be on the pace.”

Garry Jennings, Joseph McGonigle, and Alan Carmichael completed the top five.

Derek McGarrity finished seventh overall in his Volkswagen Polo R5. The result coupled with Greer’s retirement promoted him to the top of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship after three rounds.

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Photos by Kevin Glendinning

Adam Hall

Brought up in the Irish countryside, Adam was never far away from the world of rallying. From following local events like the Circuit of Ireland and the Ulster Rally, Adam now puts the stories from stages all around the world into words through his website Rally Insight.

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