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It's all change as Ulster Rally takes a new direction

By Sammy Hamill

Published 27/04/2016

Revved up: Gary Milligan, Clerk of the Course, John Mulholland, Managing Director John Mulholland Motors and Robert Harkness, President of The Northern Ireland Motor Club Ltd at the John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally 2016 sponsorship announcement
Revved up: Gary Milligan, Clerk of the Course, John Mulholland, Managing Director John Mulholland Motors and Robert Harkness, President of The Northern Ireland Motor Club Ltd at the John Mulholland Motors Ulster Rally 2016 sponsorship announcement

It will be a fresh start for the 2016 Ulster Rally - new sponsor, new venue and a return to a new-look British championship.

After three years in the south west of the province in Fermanagh and Tyrone, the August 19-20 rally is moving to the north west and will be based at the former Ebrington Barracks, now called Ebrington Square, in Londonderry.

And taking over as headline sponsor is John Mulholland Motors, the Randalstown and Campsie dealerships of a long-standing competitor who plans to enter again this year in his S2000 Skoda Fabia. He will also support the rally in 2017 and 2018.

Mulholland explained: "Rallying has been a passion of mine since I was a young boy and when I heard Derry/Londonderry was being considered as the host city for the next three years, it was a no-brainer for us especially as all three brands we represent - Skoda, Ford and Hyundai - are all actively involved in rallying at the highest levels."

The switch to Derry is part of the Northern Ireland Motor Club's rotation policy, taking the rally to different regions on three-year cycles. However, it has been 25 years since it was last in the north west when the winner was the late Bertie Fisher.

As well as using the Ebrington complex, the organisers are planning a spectator stage along the Foyle waterfront and a north west base gives them access to the Sperrin Mountains.

Clerk of the course Gary Milligan described it as a new beginning for an event which will take in the British, Irish Tarmac and Northern Ireland championships.

The British series was suspended last year and has undergone a complete re-vamp, focusing now on the newer generation of R5 cars which are also the feature category of the Tarmac championship.

It means the Ulster Rally will see the leading British contenders like Elfyn Evans, Fredrik Ahlin and Tom Cave go head-to-head with the top Irish drivers such as Keith Cronin, Alastair Fisher and Josh Moffett in a repeat of their recent battles on the Circuit of Ireland.

But the Ulster event will also allow the WRC supercars which have dominated the Irish series for decades to take part and Milligan confirmed they will be included in the main field, although they cannot score Tarmac championship points.

The two championships go their separate ways this weekend, the top Irish group including reigning Tarmac champion Donagh Kelly heading for the Killarney-based Rally of the Lakes and the British challengers off to Carlisle and the north of England forests for the Pirelli International, among them Ulstermen Marty McCormack, Jonny Greer and Desi Henry.

They will all come back together again in August for a battle royal on the Ulster Rally.

Belfast Telegraph

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