Round 1 of the 2024 WRC, the Monte Carlo Rally (January 25-28) was a cracking event! The season opener attracted just 8 top-tier Rally1 cars on the 68 strong entry list. Thierry Neuville was the star of the weekend. The Belgian driver won the rally for the second time in his Hyundai i20 and he claimed maximum championship points in the process. The Toyota Yaris’s of Sebastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans were second and third. Evans took an early lead on the two Thursday evening stages and continued to led through Friday, but by Saturday afternoon Neuville had assumed control. Ogier tried to catch the Belgian but eventually resigned himself to the runner up position. Ott Tanak on his return to Hyundai was fourth and Adrien Fourmaux fifth for M-Sport in his Puma. All 8 Rally1 cars finished. The pace of the leading cars all rally long was phenomenal!
There were 28 Rally2 machines competing in the WRC2 category. Three drivers were in contention for the win going into the final power stage stage which finished on the top of the famous Col de Turini. It was a fantastic battle all rally long with the lead changing after almost every stage between Lopez and Gryazin. Yohan Rosell had been in third place but on Sunday he was flying and passed Gryazin for second. Starting that final test he was just 0.9 seconds behind leader Lopez.
Rosell was fastest on the last stage and so the Frenchman won WRC2 in his Citroen C3 but just by 4 seconds from Pepe Lopez’s Skoda Fabia. Nikolay Gryazin was third in his Citroen C3 a further 11.4 seconds back. These three were in a class of their own. A great advert for WRC2. There was no snow on the Monte this year, just some damp and icy patches which caught out some of the competitors, but in general, conditions on most of the 17 tarmac stages were dry and very good. There were only 4 retirements from the 68 starters.
Plans for a 2025 WRC Rally Ireland are gathering momentum. All Motorsport Ireland now need is the small matter of 15 million euro funding required from the Irish Government to be confirmed. A three-year-deal will allow the Rally to alternate its base and service park between three different Munster locations. Tralee, Limerick and Waterford are the chosen venues. All are suitable and Motorsport Ireland have decided to give them all the opportunity to host this prestigious event.
What stages will Rally Ireland use? Remote servicing may be allowed in 2025 meaning classic stages such as those in Donegal could be brought into the equation during the three-day event. As the rally will be organised by Motorsport Ireland the event wouldn’t be able to cross the border into Northern Ireland. Let’s see what happens then, but if MI don’t get the funding then Rally Ireland 3 won’t happen!
The first time WRC Rally Ireland ran in November 2007 there were 84 cars on the entry list, but that included 26 World Rally Cars (the top-tier at that time). Sadly when the event ran for the second time as the opening round of the 2009 WRC, there were only 36 starters, although 18 were World Rally Cars.
The UAC were appealing for marshals for the Circuit of Ireland Rally due to take place on 20-24 April. Back then the rally was a 5-day Friday to Tuesday event with scrutinering taking place on Thursday 19th. A total of 1500 volunteers would be required to marshal the rally. The Ulster Motor Show was held on 13-18 February at the Kings Hall in Belfast. Following his purchase of the Davrain Sports Car company in Wales, local Ballynahinch businessman Will Corry unveiled the new Corry Cultra. A Rally version would be campaigned by Stanley Orr in the 1984 BTRDA Championship.
A team representing BMMC won the Northern Ireland Area Final of the Shell Helix National Motor Club Challenge. The event was held at Neville Johnston Garages on the Boucher Road in Belfast. Around 12 teams from throughout NI took part.
The New Year Stages at Kirkistown on January 17th was our first rally of 2004. Jointly organised by the 500 MRCI and UAC, Kevin Lynch won in his new-to-him Impreza S9 which Petter Solberg had used to win WRC Corsica in 2003. Second was Nigel Hicklin and Michael Curran third and top Group N car. 40 competitors started at 09.30 and we had the sixth and final stage completed by 14.35.
We were back at Kirkistown on February 21st for the Eurocables Rally. Round 1 of the 2004 Pacenotes NI Rally Championship. North Armagh MC were the organisers.
Also in February, Carsport Magazine sponsored a Rally Time Trial at the original Balmoral Showgrounds in Belfast. We covered rescue, flag and fire points. Carsport provided welcome shelter for all marshals plus tea and sandwiches throughout the two-day event. Mark Doyle was the star of the show in his little Peugeot 106, he won on both days!
Then a week later we ran a stage of Mid Antrim Motor Club’s Clubmans Championship Rally in Tardree Forest. The day passed without incident.
Frank Kelly was named as BMMC NI Driver of the Year 2013. The Moy man had been entertaining everyone on the national rally scene in Ireland for years as he hurled his “Baby Blue” Ford Escort Mk.2 around the stages. Kris Meeke was third on the 2014 Monte Carlo Rally with his first full-time drive for the Citroen factory team. The Dungannon man received the NI Motorsport Award for 2013 at the ANICC Prize giving dinner in Armagh where our Chairman John Cunningham also presented Frank with our BMMC NI trophy.
Round 1 of the 2024 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship. The Galway entry of 130 cars includes 2023 Champion Callum Devine who sticks with his Volkswagen Polo R5 and the Moffett brothers Josh & Sam in a pair of Hyundai i20’s. NI champion Jonny Greer is out in his Citroen C3 Rally2 while interesting entries come from two former British Champions. Matt Edwards (who intends to do the full championship) and Keith Cronin are both in Ford Fiesta Rally2’s. The legendary Austin MacHale makes a one-off return to the stages in his 2003 Ford Focus WRC.
Round 2 of the ITRC will be the West Cork Rally based in Clonakilty, now a three-day event and running from 15-17th March. The Circuit of Ireland Rally is Round 3 and will be based in Dungannon this year. Just a one-day rally again in 2024 the Circuit takes place on Easter Saturday 30th March. It appears that the Ulster Rally will also be a single day ITRC event in August.
Round 1 of the 2024 McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Rally Championship. Organised by North Armagh Motor Club this six-stage 90% tarmac event takes place entirely within the confines of Kirkistown Race Circuit in Co.Down. The traditional championship opener starts at 9am and should finish around 5pm. We are providing marshals. Food will be provided. Sign-on at the circuit on the day or on-line at rallyscore.net
Round 1 of the 2024 McGrady Insurance NI Forest Rally Challenge. Organised by Omagh Motor Club this eight-stage gravel rally uses the usual stages south of Fivemiletown in Co.Tyrone, namely Crocknagrally, Jenkin and Doone. We are providing rescue, radio cover and stage marshals. Sign-on on the day in Fivemiletown or on-line at rallyscore.net
Round 2 of the McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Rally Championship
Organised by Ballynahinch & District MC. We are providing timekeepers and stage marshals for this 6-stage sealed surface single venue rally, held entirely within the confines of the Bishopscourt Race Circuit near Downpatrick in South Co.Down. Sign-on at the venue on the day or on-line via rallyscore.net. Food will be provided for all marshals & officials. Rally starts at 9am and finishes at around 5pm.