| 6.8°C Belfast

Life in the fast lane: Circuit of Ireland Rally test drive


Ali Gordon takes a spin in Stephen Wrights rally car at the Circuit of Ireland International Rally press day.
Screen Grab

Ali Gordon takes a spin in Stephen Wrights rally car at the Circuit of Ireland International Rally press day. Screen Grab

Ali Gordon takes a spin in Stephen Wrights rally car at the Circuit of Ireland International Rally press day. Screen Grab

I've never been one to be stuck for words but within seconds I had lost all ability to formulate a sentence.

I was “lucky” — depending on how you look at it — to have the opportunity to sit as a passenger in a terrifying test drive at the Circuit of Ireland test day at Nutts Corner.

Kitted out in my racing suit, and feeling ever so Fast and Furious, I reached my first hurdle: getting into the car.

There is absolutely nothing elegant about manoeuvring yourself into the bucket seat of a souped-up Ford Fiesta. My driver buckled me in and after a few nervous giggles we were off.

I did fear that I’d let some choice language slip, but as it turned out I had little to be concerned about.

The sheer adrenaline that overtakes your body the very instant you feel the tension in the clutch start to ease and the accelerator shoots you off like a rocket is enough to stop your breath, let alone allowing you to try to communicate with your co-driver.

I’d always considered myself to be a relatively confident driver, and not a bad passenger either, but it turns out that I’m not as fearless as I first thought.

But it was brilliant — flying into tight corners and skidding around plastic obstacles at 100mph was certainly more exciting than an average day in the office.

“Well, I’m glad I didn’t kill you,” joked the man who had just flung me around for four minutes, echoing my sentiments precisely.

Spectators will be able to soak up similar thrills and spills when the rally roars off from Belfast City Hall on April 2 at 7pm.

Following the success of last year’s event, more than 100 participants are already confirmed to negotiate the streets of Belfast, Downpatrick, Newtownards, Banbridge and Lisburn before the closing ceremony at Titanic Belfast on April 4.

The success of the event is largely down to the hard work of event director Bobby Willis and his race team.

Inspired by stories his father used to fondly tell of days spent at the Circuit of Ireland, former international rally co-driver Bobby decided six years ago that the time was right to expand the rally.

He revealed: “I had long career of about 40 years at the top, so I had all the contacts and I knew what happens at these events so it was relatively easy to get everything together six years ago.

“The Circuit of Ireland had fallen down quite a lot but we managed to get it up and thankfully it’s done really well and we’re going from strength to strength.

“To think that 25,000 people turned out to see the rally when it came through Newtownards last year is fantastic.

“It’s probably the biggest amount of pride I have in my heart when I say that Newtownards town has never had as many people at an event as was there that evening.”

There will be an added touch of glamour this year as Golden Globe winner Idris Elba will be taking to the wheel in the race.

Kanye West’s 42-year-old pal will be in action at the Circuit of Ireland Rally this Easter weekend as part of a four-part series commissioned by the Discovery Channel.

Gorgeous glamour model and Russian rally driver Inessa Tushkanova, dubbed the world’s fastest glamour model, is also set to join the Luther star pending a successful VISA application.

“To have someone like Idris Elba at the Circuit of Ireland is great. 200 countries will see what he is doing in the programme on the Discovery Channel and that is huge, not just for Northern Ireland but for the whole of Ireland,” said Bobby.

The dedicated organiser added: “I’ve seen all kinds of things and I’ve seen the bad things in Northern Ireland but what we’re doing now and what we have done is showing the world how great this country can be.”



Sunday Life has teamed up with the 2015 Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally to offer five lucky readers a chance to win a Circuit of Ireland goodie bag.

The Circuit of Ireland will take place from April 2-4, and the public can visit the Circuit’s Service Park (free!) at Titanic Quarter and meet the drivers and see their cars. 

Qualifying takes place at Ballycultra Village, Ulster Folk & Transport Museum on Thursday

afternoon, followed by the Ceremonial Start at Belfast City Hall 6pm onwards on Thursday evening.

Competitive rally stages including Town Centre Special Stages and regroups will take place in Downpatrick and Newtownards (Friday) and Lisburn, Hillsborough and Banbridge (Saturday) and will finish on Saturday evening at Titanic Quarter.  

For more info please visit Circuit of Ireland website www.circuitofireland.net, follow on facebook.com/circuitofireland or on Twitter


To be in with a chance of winning, email your answer, along with your name, address and daytime telephone number, to competitions@sundaylife.co.uk, quoting “Circuit of Ireland” in the subject line of your email. Entries close at noon on Wednesday, March 25.

Standard INM T&Cs apply.


Question: Where is the Circuit of Ireland’s Service Park located?

a) Ulster Folk & Transport Museum

b) Belfast City Hall

c) Titanic Quarter – Belfast 

Belfast Telegraph