Best of the Irish come together for a rare head-to-head battle at Ulster Rally
When the Ulster Rally makes a return visit to Londonderry on August 18/19, it will be the only time this season the two major championships on these islands will come together.
And it sets up a mouth-watering battle between the leading players in the Irish Tarmac and British championships - two events for the newer generation of R5 cars which have split the Irish forces this year.
Some, like Keith Cronin, Marty McCormack and Desi Henry, have concentrated on the British series, while others, such as Sam and Josh Moffett, Alastair Fisher and Robert Barrable, have focused on their home rallies. But, come August, they will go head-to-head in a duel that will be about more than points scoring.
Cronin, who ironically is the reigning Tarmac champion, is currently the highest placed Irish driver in the BRC series, sitting in third following his maximum points haul from the Ypres Rally in Belgium at the weekend.
Ahead of him are Welshman Osian Pryce, a former Rally NI winner, and Sweden's Fredrik Ahlin.
Sam Moffett continues to lead the Tarmac championship, but Fisher is closing fast after finishing second overall, the top R5 driver, in the Donegal International earlier this month.
It was Elfyn Evans who clinched the British title at the Ulster Rally in 2016 but he has since moved onwards and upwards to the World championship, leaving the door open for a new winner and perhaps champion.
The BRC drivers still have the Nicky Grist Stages in Wales to contend with next week before they can turn their attention to Ulster, but the promoters, the Northern Ireland Motor Club, and headline sponsor John Mulholland Motors, laid out their plans at an official launch party in Derry's Guildhall yesterday.
The rally will again be based at Ebrington Square, just across the River Foyle, but the organisers will take the cars to the public with new re-groups planned for Guildhall Square and Castle Place in Strabane. The special stages will all be in the north- west area.
Speaking at the launch, event director Robert Harkness said: "It's great returning to a venue for the second year which could only be made possible by our sponsors Derry City and Strabane District Council and John Mulholland Motors, along with Tourism NI and Visit Derry, our local stage sponsors, and the 800 volunteers who help to run the rally."
It will be a special occasion for sponsor John Mulholland, who will be taking part himself in a striking Skoda Fabia, and he revealed it will be his 25th year on the event.
"To celebrate I will be behind the wheel of a new R5 Fabia sporting a black and gold livery in recognition of us winning the UK Skoda retailer of the year for the second time," he explained.
Set for a lunch time start on August 18 in Guildhall Square, the competitors will then tackle 14 special stages before the finish, scheduled for Ebrington at 5pm the following evening.