2009 Down Rally Report

17 October 2009

Kenny McKinstry and Noel Orr made it 2 Northern Ireland Championship wins in a row with victory on the F&M Contracts Down Rally 2009. Kenny followed up his Bushwhacker success with a convincing start to finish win over Northern Ireland Championship rival Derek McGarrity.


McGarrity, with James McKee in the co driver's seat, arrived at the Castlewellan based event with a healthy 19 points advantage in the Hankook NI series and mathematically he only had to finish in the top three to secure the 2009 title. Adding to his task was a last minute swap to an ex Carlos Sainz Ford Focus WRC in place of the Impreza and Corolla WRC that he has used so far this season.


The event kicked off with the 5 mile test in Rostrevor with the crews then making their way to the 6.5 mile Tollymore stage.


McKinstry quickly got into his stride over the first 2 stages, pulling out a 16 second advantage at the first service in Castlewellan Forest Park, helped somewhat by a stall by McGarrity on the start line of the first stage.


Also providing some excitement to the event was the anticipated Production Class battle between Championship 3rd and 4th placed drivers Neil McCance and Donegal's Donagh Kelly. However, the battle never materialised as McCance's Mitsubishi did not emerge out of stage 1, transmission failure bringing an abrupt end to the number 4 car's event. This allowed Kelly and co driver Kevin Flanagan to slot into 3rd place at the end of the first batch of stages ahead of the Subaru of Enda McNulty and Raymond Mason's Mitsubishi Lancer in 5th.


The second run through the Rostrevor and Tollymore gave McKinstry two more fastest times; with McGarrity content to sit back in second overall, aware that if he could keep at his current pace, the NI title was within his grasp.


Donagh Kelly had also adjusted his pace to take into consideration the retirement of his two chief Championship rivals, McCance and Raymond Johnston, and was just doing enough to keep McNulty and Mason in check.


At the halfway service the 2 wheel drive battle was between the Ford Escort Mk2's of Viv Hamill and Oran Donnelly. Hamill held a 20 second advantage on stage times, but a 20 second road penalty left him equal 8th overall with Donnelly on the results sheets.  However everything was to change with a mistake from Hamill on stage 5, Drumkeeragh. The Escort left the road and landed, virtually undamaged, among the bushes ensuring immediate retirement from the event.


Some of the local crews entered in the event were also having mixed results.


The Chrysler Sunbeam of Banbridge's John and Gavin Devlin stopped with transmission troubles on stage 2, while Downpatrick's Damien Hynds got as far as stage 4 before his Mitsubishi slipped off the road and into retirement. Local leading ladies Championship contender and daughter of the Rally leader, Emma McKinstry put in competitive times during the day to comfortably stay in the top ten along with Gilford's John McGaffin in an older model Impreza WRC. Ballykinlar's Sean Warnock battled with a misfiring engine until stage 7 before having to retire.


Drumaness driver Paul Killen battled with a bent rear axle, and a sore foot, to put in some competitive time in his class ahead of Christian Cochrane and Castlewellan's Michael McMullan and Barry Savage. Scottish visitors Allan McDowell and Gavin Heseltine's Opel Kadett made it as far as the end of stage 2 but they were able to restore the car back to health and continued later as a Course car to gain some experience for a planned visit again in 2010.


With the second half of the event now moving to Drumkeeragh and Castlewellan, the crews now faced two different types of stage, with narrower roads and tighter corners, the final part of the Rally was sure to make the drivers work for their positions.


Again McKinstry held the upper hand, stopping the clocks 6 seconds faster than McGarrity through stage 5 and a full 12 seconds quicker through the longer, tighter Castlewellan test to consolidate his overall lead. Kelly, McNulty and Mason all took no chances through the first run of these stages to maintain their original places in the top 5.


Cyril Doherty and Graham Henderson retired on stage 5 with broken steering and on stage 6 Martin Cairns had a narrow escape when he stopped to change a puncture, and as the WRC Subaru sat ticking over, some of the unburnt fuel in the exhaust system caused a small fire. Luckily the crew were able to extinguish the fire but the time delay put them out of the event.


With the last two stages remaining, drivers started to concentrate on getting to the end of the rally, with the exception of Donagh Kelly who had spent most of the day listening for problems with the car. He decided to up the pace over the last 2 tests and was beginning to get close to the times of Derek McGarrity before the end of the day.


However the day was to belong to Kenny McKinstry and Noel Orr. The Subaru Impreza crew had been fastest on all the days' stages, despite having worries over gear selection early on to claim victory on their first visit to the F&M Contracts Down Rally.


Derek McGarrity's second overall was more than enough to secure the MSA Hankook Northern Ireland Rally Championship title with one round to spare and third overall also wrapped up the 2009 Sonoco Fuels Production Class Championship for Donagh Kelly and Kevin Flanagan.


The winner, Kenny McKinstry commented about his yearlong Championship battle at the finish at the King's Inn in Castlewellan "We did what we had to do, and it was up to Derek to make mistakes but he didn't make any. It's nice to win the Down Rally- it's the first time that we've done the event and I think we were fastest on all eight stages, which is nice"


Oran Donnelly and Paul Hughes arrived back to Castlewellan in 6th place overall to win the Superdrive two-wheel-drive category ahead of Paul Killen in 11th overall.


As always, the event organisers, Rathfriland Motor Club would like to thank everyone who helped make the event a success, especially the sponsors F&M Contracts, Down District Council, stage sponsors McKinstry Motorsport, BLRC Landrover Specialists and HMC Communications and the King's Inn Castlewellan for hosting the Rally HQ.


Paul Biggerstaff



  1. Kenny McKinstry/Noel Orr (Impreza WRC) 42m08s
  2. Derek McGarrity/James McKee (Focus WRC) 43m00s
  3. Donagh Kelly/Kevin Flanagan (Lancer Evo 9) 43m30s
  4. Enda McNulty/Ronan O'Kane (Impreza) 43m55s
  5. Raymond Mason/Peter Martin (Lancer Evo 9) 44m44s
  6. Oran Donnelly/Paul Hughes (Escort Mk2) 45m38s
  7. Emma McKinstry/Kenny Hull (Impreza WRC) 45m57s
  8. John McGaffin/Declan Tumilty (Impreza WRC) 45m57s
  9. Jody McGrath/Paul Fox (Legacy) 47m25s
  10. Declan Leonard/Dara Leonard (Fiesta ST) 47m47s
Posted by PMcCollum on 19/10/2009; Last updated by PMcCollum on 19/10/2009