The Circuit of Ireland WILL be a round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge next year.
The elevation of Ireland’s most famous motorsport event to the global rally series, first flagged up in the Belfast Telegraph last month, was confirmed today with publication of the 2012 IRC dates.
The Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland, taking place next Easter, April 6-7, will be round three of the series and represents a massive tourism and worldwide TV exposure opportunity for Northern Ireland.
It is also a personal triumph for Event Director Bobby Willis in restoring the Circuit to its’ former glory and popularity over the past two years.
The Circuit replaces the Rally of Scotland which has dropped out of the IRC calendar following issues over dates and funding.
Belfast man Willis has been the driving force behind the Circuit’s bid to be part of a championship which was won in 2009 by Ulsterman Kris Meeke.
Today he couldn’t contain his delight. “We’ve done it!” he exclaimed.
Circuit Event Director Willis added: “When my team took over the running of the rally in 2010 we stated that we wanted to re-awaken the sleeping giant that is the Circuit of Ireland and today’s announcement is the realisation of that vision,” he said.
“Be under no illusions this country can look forward to hosting a truly world class sporting event in 2012, a rally that will captivate the fans and the general public alike.”
Promoted and broadcast across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas by satellite channel Eurosport, the IRC series is the third most popular motorsport category on the planet after Formula One and the World Rally Championship.
It was won in the final round this season by Skoda’s rising Norwegian star Andreas Mikkelsen and was the launching pad for Dungannon driver Meeke who won the title two years with Peugeot UK, paving the way for his move to the World championship with the new BMW Mini.
“Awesome!” said Meeke. “This is fantastic news for rally fans all over Ireland. My congratulations to Bobby Willis and the Circuit team. I know they will deliver a sporting event to showcase my home country on a global scale!
“As anyone who watched the IRC series on TV will testify, it’s highly competitive and makes compulsive viewing. I know all the competitors and teams will receive a warm welcome here.”
François Ribeiro, Eurosport Events Director, said: “We are delighted to welcome the Circuit of Ireland to the IRC family. Ever since the IRC's inception in 2007 it has been our objective to showcase new events but also to join forces with established rallies with a strong reputation and following.
“The Circuit of Ireland certainly has the tradition and a strong motorsport support.”
Another thumbs-up came from Terence Donnelly, managing director of sponsors, the Donnelly Motor Group, who said: “From the outset I shared Bobby Willis’s vision for the re-birth of the Circuit and we are proud to support its continued development.”
Further details of the plans for the rally will be announced in the next few weeks, but Willis has promised these will include a spectacular super special stage in a new host city.
2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge calendar: Feb 23/25: Sata Rallye Azores; March 15/17: Rally Islas Canarias; April 6/7: Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland; May 11/12: Tour de Corse Corsica; June 2/3: Canon Mecsek Rallye Hungary; June 22/23: Ypres Rally Belgium; July 6/7: Rally San Marino, Italy; July 21/22: Sibiu Rally Romania; September 1/2: Barum Czech Rally Zlin; September 15/16: Prime Yalta Rally Ukraine; September 29/30: Rally Sliven Bulgaria; October 12/13: Rallye Sanremo Italy; November 2/3: Cyprus Rally.