“Where is the next Breen or Meeke?”
“We’re certainly punching above our weight in the rallying,” opined our Belfast taxi driver as he transported us through the traffic jams. He had obviously been following the exploits of Kris Meeke and Craig Breen in the World Rally Championship. It had all started of course for the pair with the closed road stages in their home countries.
They had their ups and downs, and of course that continues, but it is amazing that from such a small country as Ireland we should currently have two drivers and at least one co-driver in rallying’s stratosphere.
Here we are at the beginning of another rally season and once again the rally scene is reasonably vibrant up and down the whole of Ireland. The sport in the southern part of the isles did appear to hiccup at the start of this year because of an insurance problem, but thankfully that has been resolved. Yes, there is a levy on the competitors, but it is surmountable.
When you take into consideration the organisers’ massive pre-event work, plus the huge number of volunteers necessary over the weekend of an event so that the privileged few can whistle around miles of country roads at flatout speeds, entry fees don’t seem all that high.
The first major event on the Irish calendar was the Corrib Oils Galway International, won by Garry Jennings, but with the spotlight just as much on Alastair Fisher in his Ford Fiesta R5 for taking maximum Irish Tarmac Rally Championship points. Galway clerk of the course Kieran Donohue told us that the club had pulled out all the stops and cut expenses to the bone so that the event would financially break even.
Donohue argued, rightly, that the entry fee was still good value, even with the surcharge. He also commented: “Most of the competitors who do the moaning have never ever even marshalled a junction.”
So, that is the Tarmac Championship up and running, and both the Northern Ireland and all Ireland Forestry series have got off to a decent start. There is still a pre-dominance of Mk2 Escorts in the sport, but also an encouraging increased interest in the latest homologated machinery, particularly among the young drivers.
However, is there a budding Meeke or a Breen there? Will the next WRC star from the Emerald Isle emerge from the younger drivers making the home headlines? Just some of the names that spring to mind include Rob Duggan, Marty Gallagher, Jon Armstrong, Gary Mcnamee, Callum Devine, Eric Calnan, Vincent Mcsweeney, Josh Mcerlean, William Creighton, Peter Bennett, to name a few. Each of them is picking their own rally paths to follow. Apologies to those we haven’t mentioned here.
We are blessed to have such a plethora of brilliant young drivers. Each of them has already shown a great turn of speed, but making it to the ‘punching above our weight’ ranks will indeed be a tall order.