British title rejig includes Circuit and Ulster Rally
The Circuit of Ireland and the Ulster Rally will both be part of a re-structured British championship next season.
The BRC series, once the major rally competition in the British Isles, lost its way in recent years after falling on hard times and was suspended this season while the UK Motor Sports Association sought new promoters. The plan is for it to return in 2016 with a refreshed structure and featuring the current breed of four-wheel-drive R5 cars at the top end.
Now the two premier rallies in Ulster have been invited to be included in the new seven-round championship which kicks off with the Mid-Wales Rally next March.
The Todds Leap Ulster Rally has been a part of the series for many years and, despite there being no British championship this season, is still going ahead next month as a round of both the Irish Tarmac and Northern Ireland championships before the BRC is back in 2016.
But the return of the Circuit will bridge a 25-year absence since the late World champion Colin McRae won in 1991.
Currently a round of the European championship, there continues to be speculation over whether it might be promoted to the World championship next season but, either way, rally director Bobby Willis is happy to have the British championship on board too.
"The Circuit was once a key round of the British series and featured some of the greatest drivers in the world, from Hannu Mikkola to Ari Vatanen," he said.
"It has been away too long but now with the new structure featuring the R5 cars it fits in with our concept of the rally."
Willis still refuses to be drawn on the World championship possibility, saying only that he is flattered the Circuit is "part of the conversation" about the future of the series.
Ben Taylor, managing director of International Motorsports, the BRC promoters, said: "We are excited to be able to include both the Circuit of Ireland and the Ulster Rally in the 2016 British championship calendar.
"The Ulster Rally has been an integral part of the series for many years and on a number of occasions has been voted Rally of the Year.
"The Circuit is the second biggest rally in the UK and enjoys a legendary reputation around the world.
"It is natural that the best British drivers will want to test themselves on the international stage against the ERC stars and we look forward to bringing something new to the show next year."
The proposed calendar for the 2016 BRC is: March 5-6 Mid-Wales Rally; April 8-9 Circuit of Ireland; April 29-30 Pirelli Rally; May 27-28 Jim Clark Rally; June 24-25 Scottish Rally; August 12-13 Ulster Rally; September 9-10 Granite City Rally.
Meanwhile, plans for this year's Ulster Rally were outlined at Castle Coole in Enniskillen yesterday with the organisers stressing their determination for the event to continue despite the tragedy of last August when a young local driver, Timothy Cathcart, was killed and the rally abandoned after just three stages.
Backed again by loyal supporter Benny O'Hanlon of Todds Leap Activity Centre, it takes place on August 14-15 with St Angelo airport the central base.
Without the restrictions imposed by the old BRC rules, limiting entries to front-wheel-drive cars only, it will not be divided into two separate rallies as in the past few years.