Belfast Telegraph

Rally Ireland on the up

By Sammy Hamill

Tucked away in a corner of the Rally Ireland website there is a message which reads: "new vacancy - financial controller".

It is fairly innocuous but says a great deal about the aspirations of the team behind Ireland's round of the World Rally Championship.

Click on the link and it reveals the following:

"Rally Ireland made a successful debut in the 2007 World Rally Championship.

"The event was the largest sporting event ever hosted on this island, attended by over 250,000 spectators and watched by TV viewers in over 180 countries."

Then it adds intriguingly: "We now plan to create the island's largest annual sporting event and we are looking for a financial controller to join the Rally Ireland team."

The emphasis is on the word 'annual'.

But Rally Ireland is a bi-annual event, scheduled to take place again in 2009 and, under the new-look WRC format being introduced by the FIA, motorsport's world governing body, is excluded from the provisional 2010 calendar.

Indeed, the 12 rallies which make up the 2009 series all stand down to be replaced by 12 different events in 2010.

In other words, a rotational system designed to meet the increasing number of countries seeking places in the World championship.

So what does the job vacancy advert mean; how can Rally Ireland become an annual event?

Co-promoter Sean O'Connor admits: "Yes, we are working towards bringing the World championship to Ireland every year.

"We are well aware what the current proposals are but there is no harm in being ambitious. 2010 is still a fair distance away and if a vacancy occurs we would like to be in a position to be able to step in."

However, it is unlikely O'Connor and his team would be thinking along these lines unless they have been encouraged to do so.

He wouldn't admit it, of course, but it seems they may have been nudged in the "annual" direction by sources within the FIA's World Rallies Commission.

It is no secret that Morrie Chandler, president of the Rallies Commission, was highly impressed with last November's rally and urged other organisers to raise their game accordingly.

I understand that Rally Ireland has in fact been ranked fourth among last year's 16 rounds - quite an achievement for a new event. The top three were Finland, Germany and Spain.

Rally Ireland's reward has been to be given prime position for 2009, replacing the historic Monte Carlo Rally, with the entire World championship being launched, hopefully, from the steps of Parliament Buildings, Stormont.

And with the proposed 2010 calendar including untried rallies in Indonesia, Russia and Bulgaria, it could be that the FIA are hedging their bets by putting Rally Ireland on standby.

O'Connor won't confirm anything but insists that if Rally Ireland is called on for 2010 and beyond the team will be ready to swing into action - complete with a new financial controller.

Belfast Telegraph


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