All stage and targa rallies in the UK and Ireland have either been postponed or cancelled for the foreseeable future. Whether this means for the next few months or the rest of the year no one can tell. The WRC is also on hold as are all other major motorsport events world wide, all because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Here in Northern Ireland, the Circuit of Ireland Rally due to run at Easter (10/11 April) has been postponed as have the next two scheduled rounds of the NI Rally Championship. The Maiden City Stages which was planned for Saturday 25th April and The Tour of the Sperrins (6th June) have both been called off.
As it stands at the moment, all Motorsport UK permits are suspended until 30th June 2020 and Motorsport Ireland has a ban on all their events until 1st June 2020. These dates may of course be extended. In addition to this, forests in Northern Ireland will not be available for any motorsport events until at least 1st September 2020.
The last stage rally to be held in Northern Ireland was the Ballynahinch and District Motor Club’s Bishopscourt Stages on Saturday 7th March. Derek McGarrity in a Fiesta WRC was the victor as he led the McGrady Insurance sponsored second round of the NI Championship from start to finish. This was McGarrity’s umpteenth win on the event. Second was Derek McGeehan’s Mini WRC with Kieron Graffin third in a Fiesta R5. Well done to our marshals who covered timing and other duties on what was a very cold but dry day. There were 64 starters and 53 finishers.
Derek McGarrity leads the Championship on 57 points with McGeehan second on 56. Emma McKinstry who was fifth at Bishopscourt in her Fiesta R5 is joint third on 50 points with Jason Mitchell. Who knows when or indeed IF the 2020 Northern Ireland Rally Championship will resume. Watch this space!
40 Years Ago.......1980
I cannot believe that it has been 40 years this month since I first officiated on the Circuit of Ireland Rally. We were on the stop line of Stage One in Belfast’s Ormeau Park. Then we would spectate on some of the other stages before marshalling at the final parc ferme at the Europa Hotel in Belfast.
Jimmy McRae in his Vauxhall Chevette HSR won the event from Ari Vatanen’s Ford Escort Mk.2. The battle between these two drivers was intense. Both drove flat out and had huge incidents with Vatanen’s roll on the last leg finally deciding the outcome in McRae’s favour. The Chevette and Escort arrived at the finish battered and bruised. Munsterman Ger Buckley was a distant third in his Escort after all the other leading competitors had dropped out.
There were no less than 139 competitors on the 1980 entry list and a total of 56 special stages which were all used just once. The Circuit was a round of the European Rally Championship, the Sedan Products Open Championship and the Irish Tarmac Championship.
The rally started and finished in Belfast running for five days from Good Friday 4th until Tuesday 8th April. There was an overnight halt in Belfast on Friday and then two nights in Killarney before the home run to a Belfast City Hall finish at 10am on the Tuesday.
Russell Brooks started at number one in a Sunbeam, Jimmy was 2, Billy Coleman’s Escort at 3, Stig Blomqvist in his Saab 99 was 4, Vatanen started fifth and Timo Salonen’s Fiat 131 sixth followed by Henri Toivonen in his Talbot Sunbeam. Malcolm Wilson’s Escort was number 8 and Roger Clark completed the top 9 in his Triumph TR7.
The 1980 Circuit of Ireland was sponsored by the Gallaher brand, Benson and Hedges. There was a huge row when Vatanen’s Escort appeared covered in rival tobacco company Rothmans livery. This would be the last time Gallaher would sponsor the Circuit after 16 years involvement. Two years later Rothmans began a successful six-year association with the UAC event. I have been lucky enough and privileged to have worked as an official on ALL editions of the Circuit of Ireland or Easter Stages since that classic event in 1980!
30 Years Ago........1990
The NI section of the BMRMC celebrated their tenth birthday in the Wellington Park Hotel in Belfast. Among the principal guests were National Chairman John Felix, ANICC President Ronnie Trouton and Ian Lynas, motorsport journalist. There were 70 guests and hosting the proceedings was NI Chairman, Colin Rossborough. Many former and founder members were present as well as new recruits including Patrick Cavan and Philip Bryans. We had 50 members on our books in 1990.
20 Years Ago........2000
Comber driver Robin Phillips won the one day “Circuit 2000 Easter Stages Rally” in his Toyota Celica. He had a titanic battle with Castlederg’s James Gillen who was in a Ford Escort Cosworth. At one point Gillen led by 3 seconds but Phillips fought back and finished 5 seconds in front. Kieran Shaw was third in his Escort.
The rally started and finished in Bangor Co.Down. There was no full Circuit of Ireland that year due to a clash of dates with the Rally of the Lakes In Killarney (Easter was late). Phillips now had a clear lead in the Northern Ireland Rally Championship as closest rival Denis Biggerstaff did not score any points. The Metro 6R4 driver went off on the short stage one in Castle Park and then lost 15 minutes on SS2.
I was Chief Timekeeper on this nine-stage event and had around 12-14 club members helping me on the closed-road rally. The Easter Stages was round 3 of the 2000 NI Championship. The organising UAC held a great post event dance in Bangor that evening.
10 Years Ago.......2010
Derek McGarrity won the McGrady Insurance Bishopscourt Stages, round 2 of the Hankook NI Rally Championship. The Glengormley man was driving an ex. Eamonn Boland Subaru Impreza S12B/C WRC. This was McGarrity’s seventh victory on the airfield type event since it started back in 1993. Six of us covered the timing on all six stages on a cold but dry March day. There were 94 starters and 75 finishers. George Robinson was second and Stuart Biggerstaff third after a great battle. Both were in Subaru Impreza’s.
McGarrity and the Subaru WRC were back in winning form a month later. He won the Circuit of Ireland Rally for the fourth time. The Easter classic was now a two-day event, sponsored by UTV Drive and based in Dundalk. Starting on Saturday 3rd April we had just 41 cars in the main International event and a further 42 National competitors. Alastair Fisher was one of the stars of the rally, leading the main event after day one in his Group N production Mitsubishi and eventually finishing third. Lisburn’s John Waring won the National Rally in his Mk.2 Escort, round 3 of the NI Championship.
As Chief Timekeeper, once again, I had 50 people manning all the various time controls on the 17 stage event. A huge percentage of the timekeepers were BMMC/BRMC club members.
Gordon Noble was Clerk of the Course and Bobby Willis, Event Director. The 2010 Circuit was billed as a Supporter Event of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. Willis’s ambition was to bring a round of the IRC here in the near future.
Despite no current action to report from the NI rally stages, RallyBuzz will try to entertain you each month during the current coronavirus crisis.
Stay At Home
Keep Your Distance
WE WILL BEAT THIS!
The nightmare WILL END eventually; but only if EVERYONE is sensible and obeys the rules!