JACK BENYON

“Ir­ish Tar se­ries ready for a re­boot?”

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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.”

Pho­tos: Son­gas­port, pro-rally.co.uk, mck­lein-im­age­database.com, LAT

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