“Irish Tar series ready for a reboot?”
In its 40th anniversary season last year, the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship should have been celebrating, but instead it fell flat.
While disagreements with sponsors and organisers behind the scenes didn’t help, a general struggle for R5 entries across Ireland and Britain hurt major championships, with only four R5s competing regularly in the ITRC and the same in the British Championship.
Despite Ireland’s relative size, it’s still one of the best rallying countries in the world, for roads, event quality, number of entries per its population and definitely in ‘fever’, a term now often used to describe how cool something is based on its history, look or nostalgia value. These column inches could easily be wasted on ITRC memories starting with Vatanen and finishing up with French bread and Andrew Nesbitt. But, there’s no need, as the excitement for this year is at its peak.
With the usual suspects like the Moffetts (Sam and Josh), Jonny Greer and Robert Barrable likely to return, a number of WRC regulars have made the switch to R5 this year.
For 2016 the ITRC voted to outlaw WRC cars from scoring points in its overall championship, and while the likes of Declan Boyle, Garry Jennings and Donagh Kelly continued in WRCS and winning events overall, it was the turn of the R5s to win the championship.
However, with Boyle, Jennings and Kelly all staying in WRCS, the ITRC lacked its previous three champions fighting for the title. While the competition in 2016 and ’17 didn’t suffer, it could have been a lot better.
But, alas, Kelly and Boyle have both opted to take on R5 cars for the 2019 season, and while Jennings still wants a rule passed to allow right-hand-drive R5 conversions to be eligible, the R5 brigade has added another key member in Manus Kelly.
Arguably one of the most surprising and impressive drivers in Ireland in recent years, Kelly has steered away from regular ITRC competition, but has won three Donegal International rallies in a row, and winning that event is as big as winning the championship in some drivers’ opinion. Think winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship. Similar kind of thing.
Kelly has been so impressive because he only does an event or two in warm-up, and then he’s bang on the pace come June in Letterkenny. That will be tested even further this year as he matches up with the likes of the Moffetts, who have thousands of miles in R5s under their belts.
Going back to the lack of R5 entries, a kind calendar matchup between the ITRC and BRC may help. Desi Henry and David Bogie will at least start both championships, opening in Galway and the Cambrian respectively, and hopefully more will follow that lead as the calendars share the West Cork Rally and Ulster Rally. The Galloway Hills is usually attended by many Irish crews too.
Lets hope one of the most fever rally championships in existence is resurgence-ready.
Mull Rally organisers are proceeding with a route for the 2019 event, in anticipation that new laws will be passed in time to facilitate road-closures on the island.
The event on the Isle of Mull hasn’t run since 2016, when a loophole in existing legislation was discovered and meant it was nigh-on impossible to secure event insurance.
The Scottish Government is attempting to pass new legislation similar to that of England and Wales, which would devolve the power to grant road-closure permits to the relevant local authority and Motorsport UK, responsible for governing the sport in Britain.
A consultation launched by the Scottish government is open until the end of January, which allows people to read the suggested wording of the law and contact MPS in support or opposition. The government will then decide whether to proceed with the new law.
“We are working on a 2019 route,” said Iain Campbell, the Wales Rally GB clerk of the course who helps to organise the event. “When you’re working on a Mull route you go in with a load of ideas but after 49 years and given the limited roads on the island there really are only tweaks to the format that you can achieve.
“The team has been put together. We’re working on the assumption that the weekend of October 13 is the date and there will be a Mull Rally.
“But obviously we’re relying on the consultation going well and legislation will be put in the statute books in time. We’re going forward with the positivity that it will all happen. We have letters of support from the council and police and the island is crying out for it to return.”
While support from the rallying community is united behind Mull’s comeback, the island also appears eager to have it return. Aside from the Mull Music Festival, the rally is the biggest event of the year and has a financial impact on the island, which has under 3000 residents.
“There’s the atmosphere and excitement, but you can be quite cold-hearted about it as well and say the lack of the event has a massive financial impact,” added Campbell.
“Not only from the week of the rally but the reconnaissance visits through the year as well. It’s the kind of cash flow that can keep people going until Easter.”