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Rallies set to return in revised Irish motorsport schedule as lockdown eases

 

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Nurburgring winners: Daniel Harper and Neil Verhagen

Nurburgring winners: Daniel Harper and Neil Verhagen

Nurburgring winners: Daniel Harper and Neil Verhagen

As Irish motorsport prepares to re-open after the coronavirus lockdown, Motorsport Ireland has published a revised calendar listing over 50 proposed fixtures before the end of the year.

It ranges from race meetings to autotests and, significantly, includes plans for the return of special stages rallies.

Major rally championships across the island - including the Irish Tarmac, Irish National and Northern Ireland stage competitions - have long been abandoned for the season but the new MI calendar lists dates for the two-day Wexford Rally in September and a Carrick-on-Suir event in October as well as the Killarney Historic Rally in November.

A production trial on July 22 and a two-day race meeting at Mondello on July 25/26 kick-start the revised schedule south of the border, while a 500 Club race meeting on July 25 gets the season up and running again in Northern Ireland.

Kirkistown will also be the venue for a NI championship sprint on August 1 and the Mid Antrim Club's Garron Point hillclimb is expected to go ahead on August 8 as is the Omagh Club's loose surface time trial on August 15. Spectators are not permitted at any of these events.

But the return of rallying in both Ireland and the UK has always been problematic because of the difficulty of keeping spectators away and how to socially distance crew members within rally cars.

European events have seemingly got round these problems, prompting Motorsport UK to give the go-ahead for rallying to re-start under tight conditions but not before an increasing number of Ulster drivers, including Callum Devine, Josh McErlean and William Creighton, have chosen to head to Italy and the Rally di Roma in the next 10 days.

Racing has, of course, also re-started on the continent and Daniel Harper was ecstatic to clock up his first victory for BMW at the weekend.

The 18-year-old British Porsche Carrera Cup champion is back with the BMW Junior Team in Germany after three months in lockdown at home in Hillsborough and, after a disappointing start to the Nürburgring endurance series when team-mate Max Hesse crashed their BMW 240i Racing during the opening round, Harper and American Neil Verhagen bounced back to take a class victory.

And Harper proved the star turn, putting in a strong double-stint including a 240i lap record to move into the lead before Verhagen brought the car home at the end of the four-hour contest.

"I think everyone was shocked. We didn't expect to challenge the 240i experts around this circuit never mind beat them," said Harper.

"But the teamwork during the weekend was great and the car was an absolute dream to drive, which made my job easy."

The team will step up to a more-powerful GT4 BMW for the remainder of the season, including their first 24-hour race in September.

Belfast Telegraph