Belfast to stage the 'legendary' Irish Rally event
Belfast is to play host to next year's Circuit of Ireland Rally.
As the historic event makes its debut in a revamped European championship, the organising team have elected to bring the rally back to the city and to the Titanic Quarter where, in February, the achievements of one of the greatest Circuit of Ireland drivers of all time, Paddy Hopkirk, will be remembered at a gala dinner.
Hopkirk won the Circuit five times in the Fifties and Sixties and the new year marks the 50th anniversary of his giant-killing victory on the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally in a little Mini Cooper.
And it is the Titanic Quarter which will accommodate the service park and rally headquarters at Easter (April 17/19) when top teams from Peugeot, Citroen, Skoda and Ford are expected to descend on Northern Ireland.
Explaining the decision to centre the event on Belfast, rally director Bobby Willis said: "There are only a few rallies in the world that get the opportunity to base themselves in a capital city but the support and interest from Belfast has been overwhelming.
"It will generate major economic and tourism benefits for the city, both in terms of visitor numbers and in positive television images, which will be broadcast around the world through Eurosport.
"The Circuit of Ireland has been hailed as a 'flagship event' among the 12 rallies of the European Championship so I'm sure Belfast is set to feature as a highlight in this top international series."
Billed as a 'legendary' event by ERC organisers, Eurosport Events who will broadcast the rally, the Circuit is expected to attract more than 10 million viewers globally as well as thousands of spectators and team officials who will travel to Northern Ireland .
It's anticipated the event will generate over £1 million for the local economy.
Belfast City Council is a key partner and Lord Mayor, Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said: "It's fantastic to welcome another high profile sporting event to the city. Belfast is continuing to grow in stature as one of the world's premier sporting venues.
"We hosted the World Police and Fire Games in the summer of 2013 attracting visitors from all corners of the globe. With the circuit of Ireland on its way as well as the Giro d 'Italia, 2014 looks set to be another bumper year for sport and attracting increased tourism to Belfast."
Full details of the route and location of the special stages won't be announced for some time but an initial outline shows the rally will begin on with a ceremonial start in central Belfast on Thursday, April 17.
The competitive action starts the next day with the course set to cover more than 230 competitive kilometres, taking in stages in Belfast and counties Down and Antrim. The rally will finish back in Belfast on Easter Saturday evening, April 19.
Helping to kick off the Belfast announcement yesterday was Daniel McKenna, the latest Irish winner of the Pirelli Star Driver award in the British championship. He will link up with the locally-based David Greer Motorsport team to challenge for the British title but has his heart set on making his European debut on his home round of the series.
The Euro series makes an early start next season with the Janner Rally on January 3/5 in the snow of Austria, where former Formula One winner Robert Kubica is to head the entry list in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta.