The 2013 Todds Leap Ulster Rally made a spectacular debut in Fermanagh and South Tyrone on Friday and Saturday, when intermittent rain added an extra edge to the already demanding stages.
One man mastered those conditions better than anyone, however, and it was local favourites, current Irish Tarmac Rally Championship leader, Garry Jennings, from Kesh with Rory Kennedy calling the notes, in his Subaru Impreza S12, who raced to victory by almost one minute and 20 seconds from Derek McGarrity, with Donagh Kelly third.
After crossing the finish ramp in Enniskillen town centre on Saturday evening, Jennings, who endured engine problems during the event, said: “It’s fantastic to win the Ulster Rally on home soil. I wasn’t sure what it would mean, with the event being so close to home, but when we were coming here on Friday morning we went to see Gladys Fisher, the late Bertie’s wife. To do that, see her and for her to wish us all the best and tell us she wanted us to win the rally gave me a real lift. After that we knew we had to do this and it’s fantastic to have won the rally.
“It wasn’t straightforward, I don’t know how the car made it this far. It had a rebuild last week, but the head gasket dumped the water out. They told us to park the car up, it was all over, but I wasn’t giving up. We got some water into it and I don’t know how, but it kept going,” he concluded.
In Rally NI, round four of the British Rally Championship (BRC), Osian Pryce, from Machynlleth, in Wales, took the top step on the podium from Finland’s Jukka Korhonen and Omagh’s Mark Donnelly, who finished second and third respectively - all three were driving Citroen DS3 R3s.
Pryce, who became the youngest ever BRC winner on Saturday at the age of 20, said: “We thought it was all over on the very first stage when we hit a bank, but we must have found the softest one in Ireland and to come back from sixth was fantastic. They were that hardest stages I have ever done, but it felt like the right time to win a BRC rally and I was three times hungrier for it than last year in Yorkshire, when we came so close.”
Donnelly, the Pirelli Star Driver, was delighted to finish in a podium position in the end, saying: “I think this is the turning point of the season for me. The first half of the season I kept getting bad results and I couldn’t understand why. But on Saturday it just clicked, it all came together. I still feel I’m driving the same but the times were just there. Hopefully that’s us bedded into the car now and we can go on like this for the rest of the year.
“It’s probably the best rally I could have returned to form on, being so close to home. It’s been 16 months since I’ve been on a podium - I’ve almost forgotten what one looks like! It’s long over due and hopefully there will be more to come this year.
“The confidence boost this has given me is unbelievable, so we’ll be trying for podiums if not better at the remaining two rounds.”
There was also good news for Kesh teenager, Jon Armstrong at the conclusion of the event when he received the Pirelli Star Driver nomination after a thrilling outing in his Ford Fiesta R2. The 18-year-old impressed the judges and was third overall in Rally NI before crashing out of the event.
The Ulster Historic title went to Omagh’s Ryan Barrett in a Ford Escort, by one minute and nine seconds from Richard Hill and third placed Rob Smith.
After picking up his third win in a row this season, Barrett said: “It feels good, it’s nice to win your local events and to win the Ulster Rally at the third attempt is fantastic. The rally is fantastic, the marshals the spectators, the stages, they way the whole thing is organised, it’s a first class show.
“The stages were fantastic. They had a bit of everything - tight, twisty, slippy, fast, big jumps - they’re proper stages for a proper rally!”
In the National Rally, Draperstown’s Derek McGeehan, in a Mini WRC, went one better than last year, picking up victory by 24 seconds from 2012 victor, Moy’s Frank Kelly, with Shane McGirr third.
McGeehan said following his win: “It’s very, very good to win the National. Last year we were very close and after a problem with the car we ended up losing it by only six seconds, so we had another good battle with Frank [Kelly, first last year, second in 2013] this year and really enjoyed the rally.
“The stages were tricky, technical, but very fast and very enjoyable. It’s fantastic to get the win. I’m second overall in the Northern Ireland Championship now, four points behind with two gravel rounds to go, which I’m looking forward to.”
In the Ulster Challenge Rally, Ross Hunter, driving a Peugeot 205, won the first event, from Dean Rafferty, with Richard Sykes third and in event two, Rafferty guided his Honda Civic to the top step of the podium, ahead of Steven Smith and Jonni McDaid.
For full results visit www.ulsterrally.com, and find the event on Facebook and Twitter (Ulster Rally).