The Toddsleap.com Ulster Rally is not only the best in Britain it is one of the most valuable too.
Recently voted the Best International Rally in the British championship, new figures reveal it contributed over £2 million to the Northern Ireland economy.
Organised by the Northern Ireland Motor Club and backed by Ballygawley outdoor activity centre Toddsleap.com and Antrim Borough Council, the rally was based at the Junction One shopping outlet, attracting nearly 27,000 people to Antrim and the surrounding region.
Divided into five categories, the main Ulster Rally was won by former Irish Tarmac champion Derek McGarrity with rising star Craig Breen from Waterford scoring his maiden British championship victory in the Rally NI for production-based cars.
It was the Rally NI section which made history with the organising team picking up the Best International Rally trophy for the second consecutive year. They were also presented with the award in 2005, making it the third time in the last six years that the event has been singled out for praise.
Clerk of the course Michael Johnston said: “We’re proud to bring the trophy back to Northern Ireland for yet another year and it’s a tribute to all the hard work carried out by both volunteers and our organising committee.
“We would also like to pay tribute to the superb facilities at Junction One and in the Antrim Borough Council area and to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board for both their funding and support.”
Congratulating the team on this year’s success, Antrim mayor Councillor Pam Lewis said: “The Ulster Rally is an important event in our calendar and contributes significantly to the economy of the Borough.
“We look forward to welcoming the rally back to Antrim in 2011.”
Overall the event drew 143 crews from across the world including Holland, France, Finland, Australia, Iceland, Isle of Man, Great Britain and Ireland, generating 97 per cent occupancy levels in the Antrim area during the two night period of the rally.
Next year’s Toddsleap.com Ulster Rally is scheduled to take place in Antrim and Junction One on August 19 and 20 when it will again be part of the Irish Tarmac and British championships.
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Breen added to his laurels at the weekend when he finished in 12th place overall on the World championship Rally GB in Wales. He also steered his privately-entered Ford Fiesta to second in the S2000 category behind Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen who has been named as driver of the Skoda UK entry in next season’s Intercontinental Challenge.
“It has been a great end of season for me,” he said. “After my first British championship win in Ulster and winning the Pirelli Star Driver Global Shootout, I wanted to end the year on a high but this Rally GB result is unreal.”
Celebrating in Cardiff too was top Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson who finished in second place overall in partnership with former World champion Petter Solberg.
Patterson, from Ballyclare, only teamed up with Norwegian Solberg in mid-season but together they scored five podium finishes in the last seven WRC rounds.
“It's been a fantastic experience, a real journey for me,” he said.
“Yes, it was frustrating to finish second again but for a privateer team like ours to be beaten by a driver like Sebastien Loeb is no shame.”