John McGlaughlin and co-driver Crawford Henderson emerged from the final stage of this weekend's Hotel Kilmore Stages Rally to win round five of the Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge Ireland.

After an intense, day-long battle, they overhauled leaders for most of the event Neil McCance/Sean Ferris in the closing stages to record victory in what was their debut in the highly competitive series for Group N Mitsubishis.

Eight of the 12 registered Evo Challenge crews entered the Cavan-based rally, which hosted the first one-round, one-day event in this year's Irish Evo Challenge calendar - both previous rounds being double-headers.

Utilising a traditional one-day Irish tarmac event format, the rally comprised three stages run three times, with each loop split by a 20-minute service halt.

McCance/Ferris carried on from where they left off last time out and went straight into the lead following the first of the day's nine stages.

McGlaughlin/Henderson followed just five seconds behind and set the scene for the battle that was about to unfold. The gap between the two leading cars increased to seven seconds on SS2, but was back to four on SS3, as McGlaughlin reported he was getting used to having more grip than he was previously used to, this being the first event using Pirelli tyres.

Looking to record his first finish of the year, 2008 Evo Challenge Champion Brendan Cumiskey, with stand-in co-driver Andrew Grennan, got off to what he regarded as a steady start and held third place when cars entered the first service halt of the day. Already he was 50 seconds behind the leading pair and realised that it would be difficult to get back on terms.

William Mavitty/Keefe Kilcoyne were fourth and frustrated to have lost time in the first loop when their car's front brakes overheated. Another crew slowed by mechanical issues were fifth-placed Stanley Ballantine/Donnacha O'Callaghan, when a sticking throttle on the first stage caused a few heart-stopping moments and they then took things steady until they could get the car back to the service area for further inspection.

For Michael Murray it was a welcome return to the Evo Challenge - this year with co-driver Brian Daniels. With it being his first event the season he admitted to being a bit rusty and he clipped a straw bale on SS2. After almost a full rebuilt following an off on the previous event, Tom White/Robert Murphy were concerned that their car appeared to be down on power, but that didn't stop them from having a spin on stage one.

Not completely happy with his car's handling was series leader Liam Egan, with co-driver Mary O'Kane. After a determined effort on the first two stages, they were caught out when the car went light over a crest, locked up and slid into a solid bank, the impact and subsequent damage bringing their rally to an abrupt halt.

The second loop of three stages again saw McCance/Ferris take time off McGlaughlin/Henderson in the first two stages, but not the third and this time the difference when they entered the service halt was 11 seconds. Their pace saw Cumiskey/Grennan drop further back, their situation not helped by a few spins, Cumiskey admitting that he could not find his rhythm.

Mavitty/Kilcoyne started their podium bid on stages four and five, but then had to slow things down for SS6, when their car's sump guard removed itself on the road section just after SS5. Unable to refit it at the second service interval they considered retiring, not wanting to damage the car's engine, but competitive spirit meant they decided to continue.

Ballantine/O'Callaghan were now making up for time lost earlier, whilst Murray/Daniels caught the same straw bale the second time round on SS5, breaking the co-driver's window. They were then delayed by a broken driveshaft on SS6. White/Murphy were still concerned about their car's power at the second service halt, but their fears were finally realised at the start of the ninth and final stage when the engine stopped completely.

There were no such problems for McGlaughlin/Henderson, who had been adjusting their car's suspension all day to correspond with the improvement in grip and were now very happy with its set-up. Therefore, when McCance/Ferris ran wide and momentarily visited a ditch in SS7, they were able to pounce and came out of the stage in the lead by one second.

Flustered by their brief excursion, McCance/Ferris lost a further three seconds on SS8 and two in SS9, which meant that McGlaughlin/Henderson crossed the finish line outside the Hotel Kilmore to record their first Evo Challenge win by nine seconds. They also finished third overall and won Group N outright.

"I'm over the moon to win a round of the Evo Challenge - especially on my series debut", said McGlaughlin. "It's been a great battle with Neil and I have been very pleased with the way the car has performed - especially the handling. I've really enjoyed being part of the Evo Challenge. I just wish I had joined up at the start of the season."

The sixth round of the Mitsubishi series is hosted by the ALMC Rally, which takes place on 19th July and follows a similar three-runs of three stages format to that of the Cavan event.