Reigning Champion Heads Entry for New Look N.I. Rally Championship Opener!

The McGrady Insurance Motorsport UK Northern Ireland Rally Championship gets into gear this Saturday (15 February) with round one of the new-look series at Kirkistown Race Circuit!

Organised by North Armagh Motor Club, the Pacenotes Rally Magazine Stages hosts the opening event of the new five-round championship and will feature almost 80 rally cars battling for supremacy around the County Down venue.

The entry list is filled with some of the fastest drivers in the country including reigning champion, Stephen Wright, as well as a number of former champions. Combined with a strong contingent of machinery that includes almost 20 World Rally Cars and latest specification R5 rally cars, there will be millions of pounds worth of machinery hurtling around the race track!

The Contenders

County Monaghan’s Stephen Wright claimed his maiden Northern Ireland Rally Championship title last year and started his 2019 campaign with victory at Kirkistown. He’s back with his Ford Fiesta R5 to defend his Kirkistown crown and will lead the field off the start line and into the first of six special stages.

Derek McGarrity (Glengormley) is among the main contenders and he targets a record-making ninth N.I. Championship title. With regular navigator, Paddy Robinson, on board, McGarrity is aiming to make amends for last year’s opening round retirement and challenge for the spoils in his Skoda Fabia R5.

Interestingly, McGarrity’s son, Michael, will also be in the fray with the only Super 2000 specification car in the field. His Peugeot 207 S2000 adds to the variety of rally cars in action on Saturday.

Keeping with the family connections, Derek McGeehan and his navigating son, Mark, who became the youngest ever navigators’ champion when he won the 2019 title at the age of 17, are also back for an attack on the series with their Mini WRC. The Draperstown team led the title race for much of 2019 thanks to a string of consistent results but Derek lost out on the drivers’ title by a handful of points.

Kenny McKinstry is another former champion in search of success. The Banbridge ace will tackle the event in his Subaru Impreza WRC while his daughter, Emma, will drive the family’s hire car – a Ford Fiesta R5.

Also driving Fiesta R5s are a host of other drivers that include Alan Carmichael (Ballymoney), Philip Allen (Cookstown), Gareth Sayers (Castlederg), Kieron Graffin (Toomebridge), Chris McGurk (Portglenone), Jason Mitchell (Strabane) and Joe McQuillan (Carnlough).

McQuillan was one of the surprises of last year’s rally as he finished sixth overall on what was his second event with a World Rally Car. It’s all change again for the Carnlough man as he makes his debut drive with a Fiesta R5 on Saturday.


The two-wheel-drive contingent includes an equally strong array of rear-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive machinery. Topping the entries are a host of Escort MkI and Escort MkII crews that include Wesley Patterson (Lisburn), Keith White (Nutts Corner), James Kennedy (Antrim), Drew Stewart (Antrim), William McClurkin (Crumlin) and Birmingham visitor, Oliver Benton.

Adding a sprinkling of variety to the two-wheel-drive field is the BMW Compact of reigning class seven champions, Niall and Ciaran Carey (Cushendall and Magheralin), while Ballygowan’s Roy Haslett and Gavin Larmour are back with their beautiful Ford Escort F2 Kit Car.

Bready’s Derek Gurney always provides great entertainment in his Sierra and Drumbo’s Robert Erwin usually sets the timesheets alight in his rear-wheel-drive Toyota Corolla.

New for 2020

New for this year is an ultra-competitive class three that’s full of Nissan Micras! With regulations requiring crews to use the same ‘control’ tyre, former Junior champion, Philip White, will have some intense battles with the likes of Stephen Whitford, Pete Dowds, Laura Phillips (who will have her former N.I. Champion father, Robin, navigating) and Barry Meeke, the brother of former WRC driver Kris!


The Pacenotes Rally Magazine Stages will feature six stages all held within the confines of Kirkistown Race Circuit. The first stage is due to get underway around 9.30am. Spectators are welcome to attend with an entrance fee of £15 payable at the gate. Regular event reports will be available throughout the event from For more information, visit

Top 10 Seeded Entries

1 Stephen Wright/Gary McKenna (Ford Fiesta R5)
2 Derek McGarrity/Paddy Robinson (Skoda Fabia R5)
3 Derek McGeehan/Mark McGeehan (Mini WRC)
4 Kenny McKinstry/TBA (Subaru Impreza WRC)
5 Alan Carmichael/Ivor Lamont (Ford Fiesta R5)
6 Philip Allen/Mark Kane (Ford Fiesta R5)
7 Gareth Sayers/Gareth Gilchrist (Ford Fiesta R5)
8 Kieron Graffin/Clive Kilpatrick (Ford Fiesta R5)
9 Dominic McNeill/Tommy Speers (Ford Fiesta)
10 Wesley Patterson/Johnny Baird (Ford Escort MkII)

Filed Under: NAMC

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