Good riddance 2020. Welcome 2021. After the year we’ve just had it’s time to look forward. I thought we could have some fun and do some tongue-in-cheek crystal ball gazing. Listed below is my own personal month by month guide as to how a “virtual new rally year” could pan out....or not....as the case may be!
In reality Sebastien Ogier will probably win the 2021 WRC for the eight time and the Northern Ireland Rally Championship may not happen yet again, time will tell. For us the big question is will there be a WRC round here in Northern Ireland? In truth it is highly unlikely. Although the provisional 12- round calendar was supposed to have been ratified last month, no decision has been announced as I write. A asterisk still appears against round nine, “Rally UK” in August. Plans for the closed-road event would need to be at an advanced stage by now!
Oliver Solberg wins the Monte Carlo Rally by five minutes after all the leading drivers slide off on a patch of ice. Solberg was driving a WRC2 Hyundai i20 R5 for the first time. Co-driver, Tyrone’s Aaron Johnston, remarked “She sure is some yoke” (translated for the rest of the UK that means the car is very good).19-year-old Solberg has been snapped up by Hyundai as an investment for the future. According to team boss Andrea Adamo the young Swedish hotshot should be in a full blown World Rally Car for 2022. Kris Meeke wins the Dakar Rally as everyone else gets lost in the desert.
Derek McGarrity driving a Sinclair C5 (ask an older person) is declared the winner of the Kirkistown Rally. The NI Championship opener was abandoned after thee stages when an email was received from the NI Assembly instructing the organisers to stop the event. Apparently rallying is not an elite sport and due to lockdown conditions (again) Kirkistown could not continue.
Following his shock Monte win Oliver Solberg is promoted to the Hyundai first team for the rest of the year. He replaces Thierry Neuville “The Bespectacled Belgian” in an i20 Coupe WRC. Solberg “The Bespectacled Swede” wins round two the Artic Rally. Ogier gets stuck in a snow drift followed by the Elf and Ott. Aaron Johnston says “ The WRC i20 sure is an awesome yoke”.
Derek McGarrity switches to a single-seat Buggy for the Bishopscourt Rally but the event is canned before it starts as a highly infectious fifth mutation of coronavirus stops any movement at all in Northern Ireland. No one is allowed out of their houses.
The Circuit of Ireland at Easter gets the go ahead but can only use farm lanes in Co.Antrim due to covid restrictions. The first round of the British Championship is won by Derek McGarrity in his new little grey “Fergie” tractor (co-drivers are banned). In the latest round of the WRC in Croatia Oliver Solberg dominates, Ogier is second but eight minutes down. Back in Northern Ireland Derek McGarrity wins the Shackleton Stages, held behind closed doors in Ballykelly, driving a JCB. No co-drivers allowed.
Rally Portugal is allowed to run. The latest round of the WRC is won by Oliver Solberg and Aaron Johnston in the Hyundai. Ogier was second but said he could do nothing about the charging Solberg. Nothing happens in Northern Ireland this month.
The Donegal Rally is cancelled when a highly infectious sixth mutation of covid-19 is discovered in Letterkenny. The border with Northern Ireland is closed indefinitely. Then surprisingly, closed-road rallying with co-drivers is permitted to restart in NI as everyone has received the coronavirus vaccination. Derek McGarrity wins the Tour of the Sperrins in his latest car, a Tesla Model 3 “This is the future of rallying” was the quote of the day from Glengormley’s finest, as he headed for the nearest charging point. Meanwhile in Italy Oliver Solberg wins Rally Sardinia and then the Safari Rally in Kenya as the WRC reaches the half way point of the season. He will be 2021 World Champion. Aaron Johnston says “I cannot believe the power of this i20 yoke”
Ott Tanak wins his home rally in Estonia for the second time. Oliver Solberg is told to take a time penalty by Hyundai bosses to let Tanak win or the local man might cry! For once Aaron Johnston is speechless.The Tyrone Stages is won by Derek McGarrity in a Rolls Royce. He had to deliver a bride to church but still had plenty of time in hand to clinch the rally and the NI championship.
Oliver Solberg wins again this time in Finland where team mates Craig Breen and Ott Tanak are second and third. Rally Northern Ireland became the ninth round of the WRC. The closed road event was confirmed at the last minute following a huge cash injection from the NI Assembly and from the North Antrim MP Ian Paisley who donated his considerable holiday savings to the cause. Oliver Solberg wins the rally and co-driver Aaron Johnston was able to nip home to Fintona for tea and scones with his mum before they tackled the nearby Sloughan Glen stage. “It’s awesome being at home on a WRC event” he said. Running first on the road Sebastien Ogier crashes out after skidding on cow shite. Craig Breen is second overall for Hyundai. Breen loves the classic Hamilton’s Folly test. “It’s the best tarmac stage in the world” he said in a stage end interview.
Two classic gravel rallies are able to run in NI. The Lakeland Stages in the Fermanagh forests has a huge entry of over 100. The winner is Martanas Samsonas in his latest home built 4x4 BMW with a powerful 500bhp engine. The Lithuanian returns to win the Bushwacker Rally in Co.Tyrone at the end of the month with yet another BMW. Again a massive entry is received by Omagh MC.
Oliver Solberg wins Rally Chile ahead of his team mate Ott Tanak.“Awesome” said Aaron Johnston.
There are no stage rallies here in NI, but in the penultimate round of the WRC, Oliver Solberg looses out to Elfyn Evans in Spain. Aaron Johnston says “The yoke let us down on the power stage and Elfyn’s Yaris passed us to win but second is fine”.
The final round of the World Rally Championship 2021 is Rally Japan. Surprisingly all twelve rounds were able to run. Sebastien Ogier wins in his Toyota Yaris and then surprises everyone by announcing that he will be back in 2022 to try for another title. He is to move to Hyundai to partner Oliver Solberg.“I want to be in the best car and another different manufacturer win would be nice” Aaron Johnston said “What an amazing year with this Hyundai yoke, we are World Champions hey!”
Aaron Johnson returns in triumph to Co.Tyrone. He takes part in the UAC “It’s Not The Boxing Day Rally” as a driver in his MX5. Johnson and co-driver Kris Meeke win the Targa event by five minutes. “That was some craic and fair play to Kris he was awesome on the notes” was the final quote from the new World Champion co-driver.
Looking forward to 2022 the WRC will go hybrid but Oliver Solberg is not worried. In Northern Ireland plans are made for a five round tarmac championship. Derek McGarrity says he will be back to try anything on four wheels that he hasn’t driven yet (at least that’s what I think he said!)
PS; If any of the above events actually happen.....it will be nothing short of a miracle!!!!!
Happy New Year to you all and special thanks to Aaron Johnston and Derek McGarrity!
Rallying as a discipline was given the green light earlier this month, and now Motorsport UK has created a guidance video to help everyone understand the changes we have to undertake. Here is a link to the video:- ReturnToTheStages
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