Belfast Telegraph

Donegal opt-out fuels a bitter rally rift

By Sammy Hamill

It is the debate which has split Irish rallying down the middle and now the organisers of the Donegal Rally have thrown fuel on the fire by announcing they intend to withdraw from Ireland's major Tarmac championship next season.

In a bid to rejuvenate a championship gone stale, the promoters, the Tarmac Rally Organisers Association (TROA), revealed earlier this month that, from 2016, the WRC supercars which have dominated the series for most of the past two decades would not be eligible to score points in the overall championship.

It would, instead, feature the group of newer, more cost-effective, less powerful R5/S2000/RRC cars.

WRC cars, rapidly diminishing in number, will still be able to take part - and invariably continue to win outright - but only for a new WRC Trophy.

The decision has been met with dismay from many drivers, notably past champions such as Eugene Donnelly, Derek McGarrity, Garry Jennings and Declan Boyle, but welcomed (in the main) by a younger generation who feel competitive WRC cars are, and always will be, beyond their reach.

For instance, the new evolution Ford Fiesta WRC now being driven by 2014 champion Boyle is thought to have cost in the region of 500,000 euros although others, like Jennings, will argue his eight-year-old S12 Subaru, which won in Donegal last month, is valued way below the price of a current R5 car.

Most regional championships around the world have already moved away from WRC cars and the TROA directors, representing rallies which make up the Tarmac series, made the decision to ease out the supercars - a decision which was reached after consultation with interested parties including competitors.

Donegal Motor Club were always against the move but in a reaction which smacks of throwing their toys out of the pram they informed TROA last week of their intention to withdraw from next year's championship.

What they hope to gain is unclear other than, perhaps, to encourage other rallies, which may have accepted the change reluctantly, to join them in seeking a return to the status quo.

This seems unlikely to happen and certainly won't be supported by the northern rounds, the Circuit of Ireland and Ulster Rally, which will also be part of the British championship next season. The BRC is embracing the R5 group of cars from 2016.

Paradoxically, the change will have little impact on the Donegal Rally. It is enormously popular with competitors and spectators alike. It doesn't rely on any championship for its over-subscribed entry lists; indeed the vast majority are not registered for the Tarmac series. And recent winners like Jennings and Boyle will tell you that thoughts of the championship go out the window when the line up in Letterkenny.

Why then vote to opt out? The club says it "feels strongly this [new] system would not benefit or enhance our event in this current form" and has "obligations to represent its members and competitors across the island of Ireland and the UK".

It is understood a meeting between the club and TROA directors - who include Donegal representative Damien Crawford - may take place before the end of the month in an effort to iron out their differences. Maybe the toys can still be gathered up and put back in the pram.

Belfast Telegraph

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