Rally NI Could Happen Next Summer
The Word Rally Championship could be coming to Belfast next August. Rally Northern Ireland has been provisionally listed as the United Kingdom’s contribution to a twelve-round 2021 WRC calendar.. but it can only happen IF full funding is forthcoming.
One thing is certain, Wales will NOT be hosting a WRC event next year. Somewhat ironic then given the fact that a Welsh driver is poised to become 2020 World Champion next month! (more of that later). It would seem then it’s Rally NI or nothing for this part of the world in 2021! What happens after that is anyone’s guess!
An August date would be brilliant for Northern Ireland, the country’s classic closed-road tarmac stages are at their very best in summer time. The last time a WRC round visited Ulster was back in 2009 when Rally Ireland used several tests north of the border. That was in January and the roads were muddy and very wet, in fact two stages were cancelled due to flooding.
If Rally NI doesn’t happen then one of five reserve events will be drafted in. Strangely, to date there has been no comment from Bobby Willis, who’s initial idea of bringing the WRC to Belfast has surely been instrumental in the latest announcement. Backing for the new rally has come from North Antrim MP Ian Paisley and Minister of State for Northern Ireland at Westminster, Robin Walker MP.
Back in April a funding request for the rally was turned down by Tourism Northern Ireland. Apparently now though the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government are supportive of events that showcase Northern Ireland to the world. Apart from the issue of funding, the other major factor that could scupper WRC Rally NI August 2021 would be the state of a certain ongoing global pandemic!
From a personal point of view, I for one will not miss a dark, dismal and pissing wet Wales Rally GB. Having marshalled on the winter event for some 16 years since 1990 (see Looking Back), lately I was a paying spectator. Although I enjoyed my visits to the gravel classics including Sweet Lamb, Myherin and Dovey , I would much prefer to be closer to home on the “best tarmac stages in the world” according to Craig Breen. Names like Torr Head, Sloughan Glen and Hamiltons Folly will challenge the worlds best rally drivers. In fact why not visit neighbouring Donegal for one day and take in Knockalla, High Glen and Atlantic Drive?
Ok, it might rain in NI but definitely NOT on the scale of a Welsh November. Another plus, Rally Northern Ireland will be totally FREE to spectators. Wales Rally GB lately had become very expensive as spectators had to pay to see all stages.
On the down side, there are only 12 World Rally Cars competing in WRC 1 at the moment (none from Northern Ireland) plus a further handful in WRC 2, WRC 3 and JWRC. I would hope that a “National Ulster Rally” will tag on behind the WRC competitors. This would give the British and Irish Championship runners a chance to run over the same stages as the world stars and at the same time boost the overall entry list. Interestingly there were only 36 entries overall for Rally Ireland 2009, the last time the WRC visited Ireland.
With the cancellation of the Ypres Rally, due to the rapid rise of coronavirus cases in Belgium, only one round of the 2020 WRC remains. The Monza Rally takes place next month (December 4-6). Based in and around the famous Monza Grand Prix circuit in Italy, the tarmac event is normally an end-of-season fun bash for celebrity drivers. Valentino Rossi has won the rally some seven times. Drafted into the World Championship at the last moment, this time though a WRC Monza Rally will be totally different.
Elfyn Evans in his Toyota Yaris stands to clinch the World Crown if he scores good points in Monza. Currently Evans is on 111 points, 14 ahead of team mate Sebastien Ogier who is second on 97. The most Ogier can score is 30 points (25 for a win plus 5 bonus points if he is fastest on the power stage). That would give him a total of 127 meaning Evans would need 17 to win the title. Second place would net 18 points, third 15 and fourth 12 (plus any bonus power stage points). In theory Hyundai drivers Thierry Neuville (3rd with 87 points) and Ott Tanak (4th on 83 points) could still take the title if Evans and Ogier hit trouble. Of course a lot can happen on a rally, even a short one like Monza.
So a four-driver-shoot-out “Italian Job” for the big prize! Let’s hope this seventh and final round of a curtailed 2020 World Rally Championship can go ahead. If the Monza Rally doesn’t run, apparently Elfyn Evans WILL be crowned champion!
NI Championship News
The calendar for the 2021 Northern Ireland Rally Championship has been finalised. Due to the cancellation of this year’s championship, it has been decided to stick with the same five tarmac events for next year. Only the first two rounds ran in 2020 before Covid-19 called a halt. 2019 NI Champion Stephen Wright won at Kirkistown in February and then multiple champion Derek McGarrity was victorious three weeks later at Bishopscourt.
All of next years events will take place on Saturdays. The first three are former airfield -based single- venue rallies while the remaining two will be held on closed public roads. Let’s hope there will be a better outcome than there was this year, although I wouldn’t bet on it! Realistically, stage rallying may not get off the ground in NI until April at the earliest!
2021 NORTHERN IRELAND RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
- Kirkistown Stages....................Kirkistown......February 13
- Bishopscourt Stages...............Downpatrick...March 6
- Shackleton Rally......................Ballykelly........April 24
- Tour of the Sperrins................Magherafelt....June 5
- Tyrone Stages........................Cookstown......July 24
30 Years Ago……..1990
This was my first visit to what was then the WRC Lombard RAC Rally. A two-car group of us went over from Belfast to Stranraer on Friday 23rd November. The ferry crossing was long and very rough due to a storm. In fact we had to cancel a B&B, so no sleep that night. Come Saturday we arrived in Harrogate where the rally was based. We assisted all day at scrutineering then on Sunday we marshalled on stage two at Harewood Hill signing-on at 05.00. Monday saw us in Dalby for SS13/18 again with an early start of 4am. My eldest son Scott, who was spectating, managed to record Ari Vatanen changing a punctured wheel on his Mitsubishi. He then sold the tape to BBC Top Gear who under contract paid £20 each time they showed it on TV! The clip subsequently appeared on a Top Gear Motorsport Christmas Special that year. That was when the RAC Rally was big news and on mainstream television!
On Tuesday we headed to County Durham and into Hamsterley at 04.00 to assist on SS23, then we moved on to Kielder forest arriving for 14.00 sign-on at SS30 Falstone which would run in darkness at 17.00. Finally it was SS36 Castle O’er in Scotland on Wednesday where we signed-on at 08.00. After the stage which started at 11.09 we headed for Stranraer and the ferry back to Belfast. It had been a long and tiring five days of marshalling but a great experience for us all. The weather was surprisingly dry, apart from some snow and ice in Scotland on the final day.
The 1990 RAC, the twelfth and final round of the WRC, had an entry of 175 and 94 finished. With a start and finish in Harrogate, there were 41 special stages in Northern England and Scotland. The rally was won by new World Champions, Carlos Sainz and Luis Moyà in their Toyota Celica GT-4. Kenneth Eriksson/Staffan Parmander in a Mitsubishi Galant VR4 were second while Mikki Biasion/Tiziano Siviero completed the podium in third with a Lancia Delta HF Integrale. Colin McRae/ Derek Ringer were sixth in a battered Ford Sierra Cosworth nicknamed “the shed” because of damage occurred during the four days. Gwyndaf Evans won Gp. N in his Sierra Cosworth.