It's time to turn on the lights for the Circuit of Ireland Rally.
The new team running Ireland’s most famous motorsport event are turning back the clock and re-introducing rallying in the dark. A marathon 18-mile Saturday night stage will be the centrepiece of this year’s rally which takes place, as usual, on Easter weekend (April 3-4).
Run for more than 70 years by the Ulster Automobile Club, the Circuit is now in the hands of Belfast rally consultant Bobby Willis and he has revealed his plans for the 2010 version.
It will be based in Dundalk and will cover 15 stages, nine in Co Down on Easter Saturday with a service area in Newry. There will be a further six stages on Sunday in the Castleblayney/Crossmaglen area.
“The feedback to the introduction of the night-time stages has already been immensely encouraging and we seem to be on the right track in re-invigorating the enthusiasm for the Circuit. We intend to build on that in future years,” said Willis.
“When I took over the day-to-day management of the Circuit a few months ago we promised fans and competitors alike that we’d introduce new elements, as we aim to grow the rally over the coming years.
“Already we’ve achieved Intercontinental Rally Championship Supporter Event status and I hope to secure funding to ensure that the Circuit of Ireland becomes a round of the IRC in the near future.”
The rally is round two of the Citroen Irish Tarmac championship and a separate national status event is part of the Hankook Northern Ireland championship.
The Willis team includes Gordon Noble as clerk of the course with Tom Walsh as deputy.
Both were key figures in the organisation of the Irish round of the World Rally Championship, Rally Ireland, in 2007 and 2009.
It was due to return to the series in 2011 under the existing rotational system but it is believed Rally Ireland is not included in a revised schedule presented to the FIA Rally Commission in Paris this week by the new WRC promoters, North One Sport.
Details of the North One proposals have not been released but ahead of the Paris meeting, chief executive Simon Long, said: “We will not be proposing rotation of events; we will propose 14 or 15 rallies.
“As we have always said, we will focus on the best events including some traditional rallies and the ones which are best marketed and promoted.
“There will be casualties from the current WRC calendar,” he added.
Ireland is not in a financial or logistical position to run a World championship round on an annual basis and if the FIA accept North One’s ‘non-rotational’ proposal it is likely to bring the curtain down on Rally Ireland.