Gareth MacHale misses out on the Galway International Rally this weekend but insists he still plans to defend his Irish Tarmac championship title.
The loss of a major sponsor has forced MacHale to sit out the opening round of this year’s series, an event hard hit by the economic recession resulting in entries down by more than a third.
But MacHale, last year’s Galway winner, is determined to be back for the Circuit of Ireland at Easter.
“It is disappointing to miss out this weekend, especially as my family has a long association with the rally and my dad has won it six times,” he said.
“But after losing a major sponsor it wasn’t possible to put the funding in place in time. I’m working on putting together a deal for the rest of the championship and with five of the seven rounds to count I can still defend my title.”
MacHale’s absence sees Tim McNulty installed as the clear favourite to win the Safety Direct sponsored event which starts from Ballybrit this morning.
McNulty and Kevin Barrett are the only two drivers in WRC cars this time — a far cry from past years when in access of 20 would have been on the start list.
Seeded behind the McNulty and Barrett WRC Subarus is former Tarmac champion Derek McGarrity but last year’s Circuit of Ireland and Ulster Rally winner has opted to switch to a production Mitsubishi this season, a reflection, he says, of the changing economic conditions.
“I would love to be driving a WRC car again but it doesn’t make sense anymore,” he says. “The depreciation on a £400,000 Subaru is enormous now but the service and parts bills are just as high as they always were. We have to be realistic.”
But while Irish numbers have fallen, no less than six drivers are making the trip from America to take part including Liam Burke, Martin Donnelly and Enda McCormack.