“Where is the next Breen or Meeke?”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - BRIAN PAT­TER­SON mn.let­ters@haymarket.com

“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.

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