It has been called the Ulster Rally for over 30 years - but now it is going to be Rally NI too.
Faced with a change to the rules of the British Rally Championship which would have forced out leading competitors from Ireland’s international Tarmac series, the organisers of Ulster’s round of both competitions have come up with a novel solution — they will run two rallies side by side.
It was the decision by the British motorsport authorities to bar the technically sophisticated and expensive WRC cars from their championship, basing it entirely on production cars, which led to the dilemma.
Two other rallies, in Scotland and the Isle of Man, which until this season had been part of both championships, opted to follow the British line and dropped the Irish element.
But the Ulster organisers were determined to keep a foot in both camps and will now run two separate events on August 20/21 — the Ulster WRC Rally and the Rally NI.
The latter event will cater for the production cars of the British Championship and the original Ulster Rally will feature the big, powerful WRC cars, like the M-Sport Ford Focus of Donegal International winner Gareth MacHale, which have dominated the Irish series for so long.
But rally director Philip Murray insists that spectators won’t notice the join.
“We have been part of the British championship for a long time but we didn’t want to follow the example of the Jim Clark Rally and the Rally Isle of Man by abandoning the Irish Tarmac championship so we had to find another way,” he said.
“It may sound cumbersome but people following the rally — or rallies — won’t really see any difference. One event will simply follow seamlessly behind the other although there will be two sets of results for the different championships.
“In fact, there are actually five different rallies taking place within the overall event including, for the first time, the cars from the British Historic Championship.
“We also have the Citroen and Mitsubishi one-make competitions so this is just adding one more element.”
To have lost either British or Irish Tarmac Championship status would have been a blow, especially this year when young Ulster drivers top the points standings in both competitions.
Jonny Greer from Carryduff is the British championship leader and Trillick’s Alastair Fisher is top of the Tarmac table.