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Circuit of Ireland returns in new two-day Easter format

 

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Off to flyer: Alastair Fisher has started Tarmac series well

Off to flyer: Alastair Fisher has started Tarmac series well

Off to flyer: Alastair Fisher has started Tarmac series well

The Circuit of Ireland name is back if not the rally it was in bygone days.

The name has been handed back to the Ulster Automobile Club by Bobby Willis, the Belfast businessman who ran the rally for a decade and elevated it to European Championship status.

His dream was to take it all the way to the World Championship and while he had the backing of the WRC promoters, a lack of decision makers locally stymied his plans. And now with World hopes all but extinguished he has stepped aside and given the title back to the Ulster AC.

They have been running a substitute event, the Easter Stages, for the past couple of seasons while the Circuit's future was decided, but now their rally has been re-titled 'Circuit of Ireland International' and will run for two days on April 10/11, Good Friday and Easter Saturday.

It will be round three of the Irish Tarmac Championship and a separate national category Easter Stages event will run over the same two days.

Backed again by Wastewater Solutions and supported by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, the rallies will have a similar format to 2019 and will again be based around the Dundrod Motorsport Centre.

Day one (10am start) will consist of nine stages contained in a triple loop of three in the Glenavy, Moira and Dromore areas, finishing at Dundrod around 7pm.

Day two kicks off at 8am from Dundrod with three stages in the Antrim, Mallusk and Crumlin areas with the loop twice more before the finish in Antrim Castle Gardens around 2.30pm.

Event director Graeme Stewart said: "The event has been increased to 18 stages resulting in even more competitive mileage over the two days and we have chosen stages which will allow the best drivers from across Europe to mix it with our homegrown talent, of which there is no shortage.

"We are thrilled to be returning to the Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council area for a third year and truly appreciate both the enthusiasm and the substantial support of the Council necessary to promote the event."

The rally was won last year by Craig Breen on his way to becoming Irish Tarmac champion but the Waterford driver has now moved on, re-joining the Hyundai World Championship team for next week's Rally Sweden.

In his absence Alastair Fisher won the first round of this season's Tarmac series in Galway last weekend and, after round two in West Cork next month, he will be on home ground for the third of the seven rounds.

The Circuit is not part of a new-look Northern Ireland Championship which kicks off next Saturday with the North Armagh Club's Pacenotes Stages at Kirkistown.

The championship has been reduced to five rounds, all of them on tarmac after the forest events were moved to a Gravel Challenge.

The Kirkistown rally will see the return of reigning Northern Ireland champion Stephen Wright, the first driver from south of the border to win the title, along with eight-times champion Derek McGarrity and another multi winner of the series, Kenny McKinstry.

Belfast Telegraph