Hyundai chief may steer new car towards Derry for the Ulster Rally
The new Londonderry base for the Ulster Rally was launched amid talk that the August 19-20 line-up could include the newest R5 car to arrive on the scene - the Hyundai i20.
Still in the development stage, the Hyundai made its first competitive appearance on the European Championship Ypres Rally in Belgium at the weekend, and now the Korean company's team manager Alain Penasse has confirmed they are exploring the possibility of bringing the car to the Ulster or Isle of Man rounds of the British Championship.
"The most important thing for us is to follow the test dates for the R5 car and if an event fits into that programme then why not?" he said. "I know there are two tarmac rallies (in Britain) later in the year and we are looking into this."
The Ulster Rally, which in the past has seen both Citroen and Peugeot use it as a test event for new cars, would appear to fit Hyundai's criteria. Not only is the headline sponsor, John Mulholland Motors, a leading Hyundai dealer, but the likely driver would be Kevin Abbring who is no stranger to rallies in Northern Ireland.
The Dutchman was Craig Breen's Peugeot team-mate on the 2014 Circuit of Ireland and was winner Esapekka Lappi's main challenger throughout the first leg before retiring.
It may just have been coincidence but one of the rally cars on display at the Guildhall launch in Derry yesterday was indeed a Hyundai i20.
The rejuvenated Ebrington Square will be the new base for the rally which will see the Irish Tarmac and British Championship drivers clash for the second time this year, bringing Alastair Fisher, Sam and Josh Moffett, Keith Cronin, Jonny Greer, Desi Henry and Stephen Wright into direct competition with leading British contenders like Elfyn Evans, Fredrik Ahlin, David Bogie and Tom Cave.
Fisher and Sam Moffett are the joint leaders of the Tarmac series, and Evans re-took the British Championship lead by winning the Scottish Rally at the weekend.
Pointing out that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the first Ulster Rally, which was won by Derryman Cahal Curley, clerk of the course Gary Milligan said: "It's always a challenge moving to a new venue.
"But with the support of our new sponsors Derry City and Strabane District Council and John Mulholland Motors, along with Tourism NI, we believe we have all the right ingredients to make the 40th Ulster Rally the best one yet."