What a Horrible Year!
2020 will go down in history as a year to forget, not just locally, but worldwide. With regard to rallying in Northern Ireland there were just three events of any significance. By late March everything had ground to a halt.
Back in January we were looking forward to a year of new challenges. The NI Gravel Rally Challenge was due to run over four rounds and the NI Rally Championship was set to go with five tarmac events.
In fact the only gravel rally to take place was the Samsonas Rally Fivemiletown in February. The NI Championship managed two events, Kirkistown in February and Bishopscourt early March before the dreaded coronavirus prevented any further action.
Although we as a club were well represented on the above rallies, 2020 was the first year in over 40 that I didn’t sign-on for any motorsport events! I had a hand operation in January which prevented me from attending anything for two months; and then the pandemic happened! Year over for me then!
The last time I saw a rally car in action was back in October 2019 when we mingled with thousands of cheering spectators on a Catalonian hillside to watch Ott Tanak doughnut a roundabout on his way to the World title. Let’s hope 2021 will be better, but I am not holding my breath. We all know a preventative vaccine is on the way, but when it will be available to everyone has yet to be sorted out. It won’t happen overnight!
As I reported last month, Northern Ireland is pencilled in to run round nine of the 2021 WRC next summer. Apparently the final decision on whether the August 19-22 event happens or not will be made when the FIA World Motor Sport Council meets virtually on December 16th to ratify the twelve-event calendar. If Rally Northern Ireland doesn’t run, then the UK will miss out altogether on the World Championship, not only next year but possibly for the foreseeable future!
In Southern Ireland the only round of the Irish Tarmac Championship to take place this year was the Galway Rally in February. Alastair Fisher won in a VW Polo R5 and we were looking forward to a good year for him and Gordon Noble. Would young Alastair emulate his famous uncle Bertie (a four time winner) and claim the 2020 Championship? We will never know the answer to that question. Perhaps they will have another chance in 2021? Then again.....possibly not!
The 2020 WRC calendar originally contained 14 events. As it stands only 6 have been able to run so far. The final and seventh round ACI Rally Monza is scheduled to take place this month (December 3rd-6th). Based at the famous Monza Grand Prix track where 10 stages will take place over the three days, the rally also takes in 6 closed-road tests on the Saturday in the foothills of the Alps. Despite the high level of covid-19 cases in that region of Northern Italy, the Monza organisers insist that the event WILL go ahead. As I eluded to last month, Elfyn Evans is in the box seat. The little Welshman is leading Toyota team mate Sebastien Ogier by 14 points and firm favourite to win the much truncated 2020 World Rally Championship. Twenty five years ago I watched Colin McRae win his title and then saw Richard Burns do the same in in 2001. Good luck Elfyn, no fans in Monza, but may the force be with you!
Russian Citroen C3 R5 driver Alexey Lukyanuk is 2020 European Rally Champion for the second time in three years. The man they call “The Russian Rocket” also won the title in 2018. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, only five of the planned eight events took place. Nineteen year old Norwegian Oliver Solberg (son of Petter) and his Northern Ireland co-driver Aaron Johnston were second overall. Solberg ran a VW Polo R5 originally then switched to a Skoda Fabia for the fourth round before returning to the Polo for the final event Rally Islas Canarias. Oliver was the ERC1 Junior Champion this year.
The final two rounds of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship due to take place in the Rhineland region of Germany on 12-13 December have been cancelled due to the coronavirus. That means that after eight completed rounds, VW Polo driver Johan Kristoffersson from Sweden is World RX champion for the third time in his career. The Rallycross World Championship began in 2014 and has only been won by Scandinavian drivers.
Seasons Greetings to you all.