Belfast Telegraph

Ards stage sees Circuit of Ireland go to town

By Sammy Hamill

It is nearly 80 years since racing cars last roared through Conway Square in Newtownards.

That was back in the halcyon days of the great Ards TT races when drivers like Caracciola, Campbell, Howe, Dixon and Nuvolari came to Northern Ireland and drew hundreds of thousands of spectators to the 13.5 mile circuit, which swept through the centre of the town in the years between 1928 and 1936.

Now the organisers of the Circuit of Ireland Rally are turning back the clock to include Conway Square in a special stage on the opening night of the April 18-19 European championship rally.

"Town centre stages are incredibly popular with the general public, as well as rally fans and we look forward to welcoming visitors to Newtownards on Good Friday," said event director Bobby Willis.

"It's a huge undertaking in terms of infrastructure and safety measures, but plans are well underway and I believe it will be a fantastic and exciting occasion for everyone.

"In terms of the Circuit, this is a first for the Ards area and I'd like to pay tribute to Mayor Stephen McIlveen and the Council for their foresight in bringing such a high profile motorsport event to the region.

"The aim is to recreate the atmosphere of those glory days when up to 500,000 spectators from the island of Ireland and beyond came to watch the greatest drivers in the world – the Sebastien Vettels, the Lewis Hamiltons and the Fernando Alonsos of their day – take on the challenge of the TT."

In addition to the special stage on Friday evening, the 100-plus Circuit competitors will pass through a time control in Conway Square in the morning on their way out to the first competitive stages of the day.

Councillor McIlveen, who originally proposed that Ards Borough Council support the town centre stage, said: "The Circuit of Ireland is a prestigious motorsport event and to have a stage of the rally introduced here in Ards is a real coup.

"It adds yet another reason to visit and enjoy this area's attractions and brings a boost to the local economy."

The rally will be based in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast and will include another made-for-spectators stage in Lisburn on day two.

In contrast, the rally's longest stage, stretching to nearly 30 kms, will be held nearby in the Banbridge-Rathfriland area.

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