Belfast Telegraph

Easter event announced as financial risk rules Circuit of Ireland off the calendar


By Sammy Hamill

For the second year in a row, there will be no Circuit of Ireland Rally in 2018 and instead it will be replaced by a two-day event, the Easter Stages, run by the Ulster Automobile Club.

With no Executive in place at Stormont and no guarantee of the funding required to stage a major international event, director of the Circuit Bobby Willis has been forced to abandon his plans to return the rally to the European Championship.

But the Ulster Automobile Club, who hold the permit which allows the rally to take place, have stepped in and will organise a replacement event next Easter, April 6 and 7, as part of the Irish Tarmac Championship.

In a brief statement, the club said: "The Easter Stages Rally will consist of two events, with some entrants competing over two days and others on the Saturday only.

"The UAC are keen to encourage entries for both events, which will be of a national status.  The proposed event will be a closed road rally and will cover some of the classic stages in County Antrim."

The Circuit was last staged in 2016 as part of the ERC series and was won for a second time by Craig Breen, now a member of Citroen's World Championship team.

Willis opted not to run the rally this year when it became clear uncertainty over funding could personally expose him to a potentially serious financial loss should things go wrong.

He had, however, hoped to resume planning for 2018 but the continuing stalemate at Stormont made it impossible to apply in time for ERC status.

"It is such a shame we haven't been able to make plans to bring the European Championship back to Northern Ireland but the current political difficulties make it impossible in view of the financial commitments involved," said Willis.

"Hopefully if the Stormont situation is resolved we may be able to stage another European Championship Circuit in the future, but I'm happy the Ulster Automobile Club have taken over again and will run a Tarmac Championship rally next Easter."

Further details are expected to be announced shortly.

Meanwhile, the final round of this year's Northern Ireland Championship will go ahead on November 4 but with a different name and at a different venue.

Originally scheduled to be the Tour of the Sperrins, a gravel event in the north west of the province, the organisers from the Magherafelt club have been forced to make a switch because of damage caused to the forests by the floods which hit the region some six weeks ago.

They will now run their McGeehan Motorsport Sunset Rall - another event which had to be called off because of the floods - at the Nutts Corner circuit and the nearby Superdrive centre, which will feature a showdown between reigning champion Derek McGarrity and nearest challenger Jonny Greer. It will consist of 10 short sprint stages to decide the McGrady Insurance title which has already been won seven times by McGarrity.

However, although he again leads the series, he is under pressure this year from Greer who is just three points behind and has the advantage on the basis of five best scores from seven rounds to count.

Belfast Telegraph

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