NIRC Championship Co-ordinator Bob McKeown (L) with title Sponsor Fintan McGrady.
The 2015 MSA ANICC McGrady Insurance MSA Northern Ireland Rally Championship was launched at the ANICC Awards dinner at the weekend by Fintan McGrady (McGrady Insurance) and David Greer (Carryduff Forklift), and it promises to be an exciting season ahead, not least with the new Carryduff Forklift R2 Wheels award kicking off at Bishopscourt in March. In this series for driver’s under 28, competing in R2 specification front wheel drive cars, there is a big prize to go for, with a drive on the WRC Rally GB in a DGM Sport R3 car. With the award just announced already there is serious interest. Former Junior 1000 Rally Challenge runner up Kyle White from Dunmurry, in his Citroen C2 R2 Max could be one of the young contenders to watch out for as they gun for this dream prize.
For championship co-ordinator, Bob McKeown the season ahead is looking different once again, with the first round back at Kirkistown, for the Eurocables Stages. Then it’s Bishopscourt, before the closed road stages of the Circuit of Ireland, the Tour of the Sperrins, the new Tyrone Stages Rally run by the Cookstown Motor Club in July, and the Ulster Rally. Then it’s a final flurry in the forests, for the Lakeland Rally in Enniskillen and the Bushwhacker in Omagh, which is now going to be held in its familiar format this season. With the Mourne Rally and Down Rally as reserve rounds, it’s very much a tarmac orientated calendar. “I think it will be interesting and a two wheel drive car could do very well. There is no doubt that the new R2 Wheels contenders could figure in the top ten” commented Bob.
Favourite for the overall title once again however must be five times champion Derek McGarrity, who is planning another year’s effort. “I’ll have another go at it, yes” says Derek. “At the moment I’ve entered Kirkistown in an S14 Subaru, but I would like to take the Mini, and put the full European suspension on it, and try and beat Kenny this time, after the New Year Stages race. It’s a good series and it’s relatively easy for me to do compared to other championships which take a lot more time and budget.” Strabane’s Martin Cairns, last year’s Bushwhacker rally winner is bringing his S14 Subaru. “I’m 95% sure I’m going to do the series. I haven’t that much experience on tarmac, so it may take me a few rallies to get onto that, but we will give it a go. Certainly the first round looks to have good competition.” Four times champion Kenny McKinstry, fresh from a New Year Stages win at Kirkistown will also field an S14 next weekend, with daughter Emma out in her S8 Impreza. ”If I can get another sponsor on board I’d love to contest the championship, especially as I did virtually nothing last year” says Emma. “Dad too wants to do as many rounds as possible, but it all depends whether the car is on hire or not, but certainly we want to be there.” Ballymoney’s Alan Carmichael, third in the series in 2014 is also entered in the Mini WRC, with 2010 champion Stuart Biggerstaff making a return at Kirkistown in his Impreza WRC.
In Group N, 2013 champion Kieron Graffin is bringing an ex Ralliart Italia Evo 10, and intends to have a crack at the series. “Hopefully the competition is good in Group N, as we are no sure who all is going yet, and if it’s good we will stick at it” commented the Toomebridge man. The two wheel drive modified runners include series sponsor Fintan McGrady and David Armstrong in their 2.5 litre MK2 Escort’s and Dessie McCartney in his Darrian T90GTR. All classes of car are equally welcome in the series from the modified cars of all capacities to the Historic category, with last year’s champion Malcolm Pedlow in his BMW 2002, Philip McDowell in his MK1 Escort and former NI Champion Stephen Mawhinnney in his Talbot Sunbeam amongst the favourites.