Race against time to keep the Circuit of Ireland part of special European series
Almost exactly a year ago Circuit of Ireland promoter Bobby Willis received a phone call offering his event a place in the second most important rally championship in the world, the Intercontinental Challenge.
Trouble was, he only had a two-week window in which to secure the financial guarantees necessary to bring the series to Ireland for the first time.
“Few people could have done it in the timescale but Bobby did,” says Francois Ribeiro, commercial director of Eurosport Events, the IRC promoters. Which is one of the reasons why Ribeiro is keen to keep the Circuit on board as the Intercontinental Challenge morphs into a re-vamped European championship next season.
“Late last year the Rally of Scotland had been forced to pull out of the IRC and I wanted to ensure we still had a British round for 2012,” explains Ribeiro. “I called Bobby to ask if the Circuit of Ireland could fill the gap.
“But we just had two weeks before the calendar was announced so it was a difficult call for him. It meant a big financial and logistical commitment for the rally and with little time to bring it all together.
“But as we all know now he did it and when we came to Belfast at Easter we were so impressed by the passion for rallying, the organisation and the wonderful countryside which we were able to show to a worldwide audience on Eurosport.
“It was also clear your government and tourism bodies understood the benefits of our unique way of broadcasting these events. It isn’t just about the sport but about showcasing the country as well.
“When the decision was taken to merge the IRC into a completely new-look European championship, selecting the best rallies from both series to make up an attractive and challenging 12-round series, we had no hesitation in including the Circuit of Ireland in our provisional calendar.”
Ribeiro insists the ethos of the IRC, which has been running for seven years and was won in 2009 by Kris Meeke, will not be lost in its merging with the European series.
“We are coming under the FIA umbrella but we will still retain the character and the flexibility of the IRC and have control over the calendar,” he said.
“Most sports have a World and European championship structure and it is important from a manufacturers and sponsors perspective to have official recognition.
“We also believe the World championship will become less Euro-centric in the future and FIA president Jean Todt has already stated he wants to see it expand into places like China and India.
“That will create an opportunity to develop a strong European championship which, with our dedicated and guaranteed television coverage and Eurosports promotional expertise, will be appealing to manufacturers, competitors and sponsors.”
Ribeiro claims we may be “positively surprised” by the level of manufacturer and satellite team interest, saying he expects to see Ford, Peugeot, Citroen and Mini as well as IRC and European champions Skoda all playing a part in the new series.
“It is looking good, very encouraging,” Ribeiro said.
Ribiero makes it clear he wants the Circuit to be included but with the calendar due to be presented to the FIA in early November, Willis and his team have until the end of the month to secure the considerable funding required.