Garry fighting a losing battle from 'word go'
Keith Cronin with Fermanagh co-driver Marshall Clarke are well placed to land the British title after a good Ulster Rally.
Matthew Cathcart in high speed action during the Ulster Rally.
Garry Jennings' hopes of winning the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship for the first time were dealt a blow when he could only finish second behind main rival Darren Gass on last weekend's Ulster International Rally.
In contrast, Enniskillen navigator Marshall Clarke, who partners Keith Cronin, moved into pole position for the British title after a convincing victory on their section of the event. It was a successful event for other local crews as well, with both Johnny Leonard and Jon Armstrong taking class wins and Matthew Cathcart claiming second in class in his Fiesta, although a frustrated Alastair Fisher crashed out.
Jennings went into the event knowing a repeat of his recent victory in Donegal would make him favourite for the Championship, but right from the start the Kesh driver was struggling with his hired WRC Subaru Impreza, and it was quickly apparent that he was going to struggle to match the speed of the early pace setters.
"I wasn't even going to start the rally at one stage to be honest," admitted Garry. "There was a problem with the brain in the car. The handbrake wasn't telling the disc to disconnect so when you pulled the handbrake it locked all four wheels. We knew it before the start of the rally and we were trying to get it fixed but it didn't happen. We got it sorted at the service on Saturday, but the rally was virtually over by then. It was a losing battle from the word go."
On stages that were slippery and packed with hairpins and tight corners Garry was losing time with every passing mile. On the first stage he was eight seconds adrift of the fastest time, and by stage two the gap had risen to over 20 seconds. At the end of the first day the gap to leader Gass stood at one minute, with Derek McGarrity relegating Garry to third.
McGarrity retired with transmission failure on the final day, and the extra championship points acquired by Garry could yet prove crucial. His second overall finish means he must win the final round in Cork and hope Gass has a poor result if he is to secure the Championship.
"I don't know how that leaves it for Cork to be honest," said Garry. "If I'm still in with a chance I'll go but if it's lost then I'm not going to go and I'll just concentrate on next year. I'd like to have a go at it next year because I've proved to myself that the pace is there and it just a matter of trying to get things in place to make that happen."
In contrast to Garry's frustrations, Marshall Clarke's rally was serene by comparison.
Co-driving for Keith Cronin, the pair moved into the lead of the British Championship after securing their third successive victory. The pair were fastest on the first stage, and were never seriously challenged as they opened up a lead of almost a minute after day one.
From there it was a case of maintaining their advantage, which they managed without any major scares. They now go to the Trackrod Rally in Yorkshire for the final round of the campaign, knowing that a finish in the top eight should secure them the title.
Matthew Cathcart and Alastair Fisher were both out in their Fiestas. Matthew was coming off a fine performance on the Jim Clark Rally, and despite his inexperience on tarmac he once again produced an impressive drive to take second in class behind a dominant Elfin Evans.
Alastair Fisher's rally did not run so smoothly. The Trillick driver was not on the pace of his rivals from the off and in a frustrating event he suffered a puncture on Friday evening, before eventually retiring when he slid off the road on Saturday.
Jonny Leonard has had an indifferent season, but he dominated class eight, winning his class with minutes to spare and coming home an impressive twelfth overall.
Jon Armstrong was competing in the Challenge Rally section of the event. After a promising start to his season Jon had suffered a disappointing run of results, but he returned to his early season form on the Ulster with second overall on both days of the rally.
With the Challenge competitors competing on a new rally on each of the two days, Jon was quickly on the pace of the leaders on Friday, posting two fastest times on the night stages despite never having driven competitively in the dark before.
He replicated his opening day second place on the Saturday after an intense battle with the more powerful Renault Clio of Russ Thompson, eventually finishing a mere three seconds ahead. In the fiesta class however, he dominated in much more convincing style on both days, winning each event by over three minutes.
"I've had bad luck the last three times so it nice to have a good weekend," said Jon. "We had no problems with the car, and it was a good clean run. I won the Fiestas both days by three minutes and four minutes, and I was happy with that, as well as second overall." Jon currently lies joint third in the championship, and can secure third with a good result on the Trackrod Rally in September.
This article appeared in Impartial Reporter 23 Aug 12