Circuit of Ireland to stay in European Rally Championship series with a change of date
The Circuit of Ireland will again be part of next season's European Rally Championship but not on its traditional Easter date.
Perhaps for the first time in its near 90-year history, it will move from the holiday weekend to a new date a week later (April 7-9).
Officially, this is to "accommodate European calendar scheduling" but, with much of the rally's funding coming from government, tourist bodies and local councils, the fact that Easter 2016 (March 25-27) falls in the same financial year as Easter 2015 will have played a part.
But rally director Bobby Willis is predicting it will be bigger and better than ever and for the first time since 1991 - when it was won by the late World champion Colin McRae - is also included in a re-vamped British Championship.
"The past two years have seen the Circuit growing in stature and reclaiming its position as a world-class event. It has been a fantastic experience being part of the European Championship and now to be included in the British Championship as well, demonstrates our ability to deliver an event of the highest professional and sporting standards," he said.
"Last year, 30 million viewers across the world watched on Eurosport, its global media partner, and the Discovery Channel. This exposure is not only fantastic for Northern Ireland but hugely increases our attraction for international competitors."
The rally produced a home winner last year with victory going to Craig Breen and the Peugeot Academy team and although he is expected to concentrate on the World Championship next year, he has already indicated to Willis that he intends to be back to defend his title.
The Circuit, also part of the Irish Tarmac Championship, will be round three of the ERC series which begins in Latvia in February and finishes with the Cyprus Rally in September. Out go the Janner Rally in Austria and the Swiss Rally du Valais, which Breen won last week only to be relegated into second place for a rules infringement by his team.
The Rajd Rzeszowski in Poland in August is included for the first time.
Provisional 2016 ERC calendar (to be confirmed by the FIA World Council next month): February 5-7 Rally Liepja (Latvia), March 11-13 Rally Islas Canarias (Canary Islands), April 7-9 Circuit of Ireland Rally, May 6-8 Acropolis Rally (Greece), June 2-4 Rally Azores (Portugal), June 23-25 Ypres Rally (Belgium), July 15-17 Rally Estonia, August 5-7 Rajd Rzeszowski (Poland), August 26-28 Barum Rally (Czech Republic), September 24-25 Cyprus Rally.