– Darren Gass/Sean Mullally win the event.
– Stuart Biggerstaff finishes fourth and leads the Hankook MSA N.I. Rally Championship.
– Mark Donnelly scores maximum points on the event.
Markethill’s Darren Gass scored his maiden Hankook Northern Ireland Stage Rally Championship victory on Saturday at round five, the Modern Tyre Service Mourne Rally.
The 21-year-old Subaru Impreza WRC driver, who is a former British Junior Rally Champion, stormed into the rally lead after stage two and quickly built a substantial advantage of 45 seconds over John McGlaughlin and Crawford Henderson.
Then disaster struck the Gass camp. A double puncture and a 30 second time penalty dropped him behind McGlaughlin with just two stages remaining. Suddenly, it looked as though Cookstown’s Group N Mitsubishi Lancer pilot, who had been struggling with a misfire throughout the day, had victory within his grasp.
But Gass was determined to regain the advantage and a no holds barred attack over the closing miles saw him swipe 24 seconds from the leader on the penultimate stage. Nine seconds separated the two crews going into the final test, and a similar performance ensured that Gass regained the number one position at the last gasp.
In the end, Gass and navigator Sean Mullally claimed victory by 11 seconds in their Subaru Impreza WRC, with John McGlaughlin and Crawford Henderson taking second. They also headed the Group N category, finishing more than one minute ahead of Mark Donnelly and Stephen O’Hanlon, who claimed third overall.
With neither Gass nor McGlaughlin registered for Hankook N.I. Championship points, Donnelly also claimed maximum overall championship points, maximum Sunoco Fuels Group N points and maximum points in the Superdrive Junior Championship tables.
The Mitsubishi Lancer pilot had been tussling with Stuart Biggerstaff for the top spot, and it was Biggerstaff who led in his Impreza WRC for much of the day. He looked set to claim third overall but was overhauled by Donnelly on the penultimate stage.
Then Biggerstaff stalled at a hairpin on the final test, forcing him to settle for fourth overall. He still claimed second placed championship points, and the result promoted him to the top of the Hankook Championship tables, four points ahead of Derek McGarrity. Meanwhile, championship hopeful George Robinson retired earlier in the day with gearbox problems.
In the Hankook two-wheel-drive category, Drew Stewart and Steven Park claimed victory aboard their Mark 2 Escort. Camillus Bradley had comfortably led the category but he retired after stage six with mechanical problems.
That left a battle between a number of competitors and the tussle went right down to the wire. Going into the final stage, five seconds separated three crews, with David Armstrong leading from Drew Stewart and Alistair Cochrane.
Stewart pulled out all of the stops to set fastest time over the final miles and he snatched the win as well as fifth overall. Alistair Cochrane and Gary McElhinney finished on equal times with Armstrong, but it was Cochrane who claimed sixth on the tie-break, forcing David Amrstrong and John Rowland outside the top six.
Malcolm Pedlow and Ivor Ferguson were the sole finishers in the Montgomery Motorsport Historic category, while victory in the Autofashion.ie Group A Cup was sealed by Clive Kilpatrick and Richard Hunniford.
The 2010 Hankook MSA Northern Ireland Stage Rally Championship has now reached the midpoint of the series. There is a two month break before competitors return to action at the Limavady based Dogleap Stages Rally on 07 August. More details are available on www.nirally.com.