Circuit of Ireland 2016: Rally kings chasing circuit joy
The leaders of the European, British and Irish rally championships are all confirmed starters as officials prepare to close the 2016 Circuit of Ireland entry list this evening.
Russian Alexey Lukyanuk, winner of the European opener in the Canary Islands at the weekend, will be here to join British championship leader Elfyn Evans and Keith Cronin who took his second maximum score in the Irish Tarmac series in West Cork on Sunday.
With just hours to go behind the final closing date, Circuit of Ireland director Bobby Willis said he was thrilled by the strength and breadth of the entry list which has already passed its 140 maximum number of starters spread over the international and national divisions.
"We have the top drivers from all three championships coming to Belfast and we have competitors entered from all around the world, from as far afield as Australia and China, so it is going to be a truly international event," said Willis.
"We have been building the Circuit over the past few years and it is getting bigger and bigger. I'm absolutely thrilled with the response although it does create a problem for us.
"We have already exceeded the maximum number of cars we are permitted to start even before the entries close this evening so some people are going to be disappointed. But we have a strict criteria to determine who gets priority and we have to work within the guidelines."
Lukyanuk, who was sixth on last year's Circuit, held off reigning ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz to win the Rally Islas Canarias and they are expected to renew their rivalry on the Ulster stages on April 7-9.
They will face strong competition from the leading British and Irish drivers including Tom Cave, Alastair Fisher, Max Vatanen, David Bogie and the Moffett brothers as well as Evans and Cronin.