Antrim to host Circuit of Ireland qualifier in April
Antrim is to play host to the qualifying stage when the European rally championship comes to town for the Circuit of Ireland in April.
Historic Clotworthy House and the restored 17th century gardens of Antrim Castle will provide the backdrop for close to 80 drivers as they prepare to contest a rally which this year features in the British and Irish Tarmac championships as well as the European series.
They will assemble there on April 7 ahead of the shakedown and qualifying stages, which will be held nearby.
Event Director Bobby Willis said: "It is important to select a stunning venue to impress and win over our international visitors and media. The Large Parterre and Her Ladyship's Pleasure Gardens alongside the Yew Tree pond and the banks of the Sixmilewater river will provide a wonderful backdrop and showcase historic Antrim."
Organised in partnership with Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, the qualifying session will include a closed road practice period in the morning with ERC priority cars departing from the Loughshore car park.
They will re-group at Antrim Castle Gardens at midday before the qualifying stage (12.30pm).
Afterwards they will return to the King's Hall Service Park in Belfast and the selection of starting positions will take place in the evening.
The move to Antrim points to a shift in direction for the rally which in recent times has centred mainly on Co Down. It is now expected to include stages up and along the north Antrim coast on Friday, April 8.
Co Down will also be included with Banbridge again featuring as a re-group venue during the Saturday leg. Entries open next week and are likely to include reigning European champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz and current leader of the Irish Tarmac championship Keith Cronin.
Meanwhile, six-time champion Derek McGarrity heads the line-up for the opening round of the NI rally championship, the Pacenotes Stages at Kirkistown tomorrow (9.30am start).
McGarrity heads the field in the WRC Ford Fiesta he used to win the non-championship New Year Stages Rally at the same venue last month. On that occasion another former multi-champion, Kenny McKinstry, led until his Subaru was forced out but he is back and slots in at No.2.
Peadar Hurson, winner of the Tyrone Stages last year, is seeded at three with Emma McKinstry, Kenny's daughter, Jonny Leonard and George Robinson completing the top six.