Eugene Donnelly slams no-win rule for WRC cars
He is the record-equalling five-times Irish Tarmac rally champion and now Eugene Donnelly is leading a chorus of disapproval over plans for next year's championship.
The Tarmac Rally Organisers Association (TROA) have announced that drivers of WRC cars, like the Subaru Impreza, the Ford Focus and even the latest Ford Fiesta, which have won virtually every round of the series for the past two decades, won't be able to win the championship in 2016 even though they will still be allowed to take part - and almost certainly continue to win every rally.
Instead, the championship will be based on the newer, less powerful cars which fall into the R5, Super 2000 and RRC categories.
Like many, Donnelly believes the organisers have fallen between two stools.
"I think this is the least best option," said the Maghera driver who has 18 Tarmac wins to his credit. They should either have banned the WRC cars completely or left well alone.
"Now we have a situation where drivers who win rallies can't become champion.
"It does the sport no favours and just confuses the public.
"Naturally I'm biased and want to see the best, fastest, most powerful cars continue but what is the point if they cannot win what is supposed to be our premier championship.
"I'm not alone in this opinion. I've had a string of calls from other drivers who are angry with this 'non decision'. We want TROA to think again."
Garry Jennings, a former Tarmac champion and weekend winner of the Donegal International in his S12B Subaru, agrees and says the changes won't make him switch to an R5 car.
"World cars are what bring the spectators out and, despite what people think, my Impreza costs a lot less than an R5 car. Besides they are left-hand-drive only which doesn't suit me," he said. "The big winner in this will be the Irish national series where we can run our cars and win the championship."
TROA chairman David Gray said it was time to bring the series into line with other major championships.
"We didn't want to exclude the WRC cars completely but they are diminishing in number and the majority of directors felt it was time to look to the future. Not doing anything wasn't an option."
Meanwhile, Craig Breen bids for his fourth European championship win in a row when he starts the Ypres Rally in Belgium this afternoon.
But Breen, leader of the series after victories in Latvia, the Circuit of Ireland and the Azores, faces one of the strongest fields of the year, the entry boosted by several European tarmac specialists including his former Peugeot team-mate Kevin Abbring, Bryan Bouffier, and seven times Ypres winner Freddy Loix.
The Irish contingent also includes the Moffett brothers, Sam and Josh, as well as Marty McCormack.