Northern Ireland Rally Championship bosses have been accused of “gifting” the 2021 title to current leader Jonathan Greer after they failed to find an event to replace the cancelled Tyrone Stages.
The Cookstown Motor Club meeting had been pencilled in for November 6 but was shelved owing to fears around COVID, with Championship organisers confirming a substitute round could not be found.
As such, tomorrow’s Tour of the Sperrins Rally will be the fourth and final round of the all-Tarmac series – something that has provoked an angry response from the championship’s most decorated competitor.
Derek McGarrity is one of four other drivers who has a mathematical chance of denying Greer who has won two of three rounds to hold a five-point buffer over the reigning champion, Stephen Wright.
But given Greer’s speed and consistency in the campaign so far, McGarrity is consigned to losing out on the title as he did in 2019 when a similar situation played out in the Northern Ireland Championship.
On that occasion, the Glens of Antrim Rally couldn’t go ahead due to insufficient entries and with the countback rule called upon by organisers, McGarrity saw that season’s title slip through his fingers. “It doesn’t come as a surprise – they’re doing what’s easy for them,” said McGarrity.
“Why not run the Tyrone Stages around the lanes of Magilligan Prison like they did a few years back? “If COVID is the issue, no spectators can get in there. It’s perfect to hold a rally. This decision has gifted Jonny the title. I really feel sorry for people like Desi Henry who would have won the next two rallies,” he added.
Understandably, Citroen C3 R5 driver Greer – who is aiming for his second Northern Ireland title with team-mate Kirsty Riddick after clinching their first back in 2017 – doesn’t share McGarrity’s viewpoint.
“I don’t think it puts us in a slightly stronger position because with every score now counting it means that anyone in the top five is still capable of winning this Championship depending on how the last round goes,” he said.
“We only have a five-point gap in our favour, so our approach has not changed. “The final round being cancelled is a shame but it’s completely understandable why the club has taken this decision.
“The decision is also right for the people who live in the areas the rally will run through. There’s more important things than a day’s sport right now so I respect the club’s decision,” he added.