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Desi Henry and Damien Connolly have won the Trailer Parts and Spares Lakeland Stages Rally, round five of the McGrady Insurance Motorsport UK Northern Ireland Stage Rally Championship.

The Ford Fiesta WRC mounted crew took the lead after stage two of the Enniskillen based event and stayed there until the finish, heading home the Fiesta belonging to Sam Moffett and James Fulton.

The result could potentially propel Henry into the midst of a battle for the N.I. Championship title. He has only contested two rounds of the series this year but has won both of them and intends to compete at the Bushwhacker Rally later this month.

“It’s quite likely that I’ll do the rest of the championship,” he admitted. “I’m definitely going to the Bushwhacker and we’ll look at the points situation after that.”

As for navigator Connolly, the victory marks his first ever win on a gravel round of the Northern Ireland series.

“Never give up!” he smiled at the finish. “My last gravel rally was in 2017 and my last gravel event in the Northern Ireland Championship was back in 2012. It’s nice to tick the box!”

Coming home in second position, Sam Moffett’s challenge faded during the final loop when some intercooler pipes disconnected after a heavy landing over a Ballintempo jump. He dropped precious seconds to his rival on the stage and although he was able to fix the problem, he had to settle for second.

“What can you do?” a disconsolate Moffett said at the finish.

He still did enough to fend off the challenge from Cathan McCourt and Barry McNulty who really upped their pace over the closing miles to set a fastest stage time. They finished in front of Vivian Hamill and Andrew Grennan who encountered some “gremlins” during the final loop.

“The car stopped midway through the stage and wouldn’t start again,” Hamill explained. “There’s a wee gremlin somewhere!”

Donagh Kelly and Conor Foley struggled with an errant handling Skoda Fabia during the first loop of stages but they fixed the problem for the final loop and fought back to finish fifth. Patrick O’Brien and Thomas Nugent grabbed sixth overall in their Evo from Niall McCullagh and Ryan McCloskey who enjoyed their first time out in the R5 car.

Coming home in eighth overall and second among the N.I. Championship registered competitors were Stephen Wright and Arthur Kierans. With the retirement of Derek McGarrity, who exited the event during the second loop of stages when he broke a rear arm in his Fiesta, Wright now holds second in the championship and has closed the gap to series leaders Derek and Mark McGeehan.

“It was my first time on gravel in seven years,” Wright said, “so I didn’t expect to be on the pace of either Derek McGarrity or Derek McGeehan. But we managed to do it and finish in front so I’m very happy with the result.”

As for the McGeehan father and son crew, they eventually arrived home in 12th after a day that saw them make a brief visit to a forest ditch. However, it was a puncture on stage three that really thwarted their hopes but they have done enough to maintain the top spot in the series standings.

Further down the order, multiple N.I. Champion Kenny McKinstry had a fraught morning when a turbo pipe came adrift in his Fiesta. He lost over one minute and was caught by Niall Henry, who subsequently clipped a chicane and damaged the front of his Citroen but he still managed to finish just outside the top 10.

2WD

In the two-wheel drive category, David Condell and Paul Kelly nabbed the victory despite some early drama that saw them stall during stage two. They dropped around 10 seconds but kept their heads cool to eventually claim the category win by 28 seconds from John Gordon and Thomas Wedlock. Ruairi Maguire and Grace O’Brien took third in the category with their Corsa.

Round Six

The next round of the McGrady Insurance N.I. Rally Championship takes crews to Omagh on 21 September for the McKelvey Asbestos Bushwhacker Rally. For more information about the championship, visit http://www.nirallychampionship.com or fb.com/nirallying.

Results (Top 10)
(Full results available from http://www.rallyscore.net.)

1 Desi Henry/Damien Connolly (Fiesta WRC)
2 Sam Moffett/James Fulton (Fiesta)
3 Cathan McCourt/Barry McNulty (Fiesta R5)
4 Vivian Hamill/Andrew Grennan (Fiesta R5)
5 Donagh Kelly/Conor Foley (Fabia R5)
6 Patrick O’Brien/Thomas Nugent (Lancer Evo 9)
7 Niall McCullagh/Ryan McCloskey (Fiesta R5)
8 Stephen Wright/Arthur Kierans (Fiesta R5)
9 Conor McCourt/Brian Hoy (Fiesta)
10 Michael Carbin/Conor Mohan (Lancer Evo 8)

Images courtesy of Jonathan MacDonald

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