The Circuit of Ireland will be one of this year's key sporting events helping attract tourism to Northern Ireland, the Enterprise Minister has said.
Speaking at the launch of this year's rally, Arlene Foster said the Circuit of Ireland "will make a thrilling contribution to the programme of events".
"There is huge interest in this new series and the event will help raise the profile of Northern Ireland, not only for those who come here to see the rally for themselves but also to TV audiences across Europe and the world.
"Tourism Ireland's collaboration with Eurosport has ensured that the Circuit of Ireland will reach 125 million households in Europe over the Easter weekend."
“As well as being able to watch high profile drivers battling it out, viewers will also see pictures of the spectacular landscapes, beautiful scenery and tourism landmarks in counties Down and Antrim.
"Tourism Ireland will be working hard in our European markets to capitalise on the promotional opportunities these pictures and the rally will create."
This year's rally has been supported by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board’s 'Tourism Events Funding Programme'.
Belfast Telegraph reporter Joanne Sweeney in the driving seat for the power trip of a lifetime
Vroom, vroom, vroom – the Circuit of Ireland Rally will be blazing into Belfast over the coming Easter weekend.
Barring a repeat of the freak snow storms which forced the cancellation of the 2013 event, this year's Circuit of Ireland Rally will start and finish at Belfast's Titanic Quarter over the weekend of April 17-19.
I got the chance to experience the nippy acceleration – just marginally slower than that of F1 cars – behind the wheel of the souped-up Ford Fiesta that is the Tunnock's World Rally Team's R5.
With 220 horsepower more than the normal 1.6 Zetec turbo car, the man at the wheel was emerging Irish rally star Robert Barrable.
It was a Ford Fiesta on the outside only – it's more like a stripped-down airplane cockpit on the inside, with left-hand drive and square buttons replacing all the normal vehicle functions.
Forget every second counts, every millisecond counts as gears, accelerator and brakes are honed to ensure minimum effort for maximum speed. Picked up outside the Belfast Telegraph offices, passers-by stopped and stared at the rally car as Robert and I snaked through the city.
Getting in and out of a rally car is a skill in itself and the seats are a snug fit within the roll cage.
Inside, the noise is deafening and headphones with mics are needed to communicate.
Well, well out of harm's way from the public, I got a chance to drive the beast myself, slowly, cautiously... until I inevitably stalled it. Robert, a 26-year-old Dubliner, came to the rescue, however, to ensure that I got the full speed experience of the vehicle.
Before he revved up and drove me at 95mph – very briefly – alongside the Samson and Goliath cranes, he asked me if I was a nervous driver.
I'm not, but I wasn't expecting the sheer heart-in-the-mouth feeling that comes with such exhilarating speed.
Robert, who learned to drive at the age of seven, was the first entry into this all-Tarmac annual race.
"We (co-driver Stuart Loudon) are hoping to finish in the top five," said the semi-professional, who's in his fifth year of competition.
Event director Bobby Willis, a former highly successful co-rally driver himself, promised: "This year's rally will be a highly competitive race and I'm expecting the maximum number of 130 entries."
Manufacturers represented in the upcoming rally will include Peugeot, Ford, Skoda, Citroen, Renault teams plus privateer entries.
- This year's Circuit of Ireland Rally will be held over its traditional Easter weekend spot of April 17-19.
- Starting and finishing at Belfast's Titanic Quarter, the qualifying stage takes place in Ballycultra Village, Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, on Thursday, April 17.
- There will be two spectator stages – Newtownards on Friday April 18 and Lisburn on the Saturday.