Belfast Telegraph

Sleeping giant wakes up but rally needs cash

By Sammy Hamill

The promoters of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge would love to bring their championship back to Ireland next year.

The question is: can we afford it?

Having an event of the history and tradition of the Circuit of Ireland adds provenance to the IRC, the second most important rally series in the world, and they were delighted with the organisation, the welcome they received and the stern test the event provided.

They were delighted, too, that it got an official nod of approval from First Minister Peter Robinson, who was given a spin around the Titanic Quarter stage in a Super 2000 Skoda Fabia driven by the Czech team’s director, Pierfrancesco Zanchi.

“I think we ticked most of the boxes as far as the IRC promoters are concerned,” said rally director Bobby Willis, who took over the running of the event three years ago and promised to “re-awaken the sleeping giant that is the Circuit of Ireland.”

There is no question he has succeeded but will now take time to decide whether to continue the battle to raise the large sums of money which are required to stage such an event at the level required by the IRC.

Willis is not only the rally director but the promoter as well and he anticipates making a substantial loss on the event’s first foray into the IRC.

“I had hoped for more income, and had budgeted for more, but there was always going to be a shortfall. Until we get all the figures in I won’t know how much it has cost me personally,” he said.

“The IRC should come back to the Circuit of Ireland again, and I know they want to, but we would

have to find more sponsors.

“The Donnelly Group and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board have been great supporters but it costs a lot to run this rally and we would have to find other backers as well.

“Whether that is possible in the current economic climate, I don’t know.”

The event, won by Skoda’s World Super 2000 champion Juho Hanninen, was hailed as a real success by team bosses and drivers. There were negatives, of course.

Like the over-hyped and over-priced Titanic Quarter stage. Fans in the thousands the organisers had hoped for were never going to pay through the nose to go there when the rest of the rally is free to view.

Many competitors in the national rally felt they were marginalised and over-looked. And they were, even with the likes of Eugene Donnelly and Derek McGarrity, who have won the Circuit seven times between them, in the line-up.

It is difficult to link an IRC event with a national status rally when there are different regulations and different specifications of cars involved.

But a way must be found, or many of our local drivers will stay away.

Nevertheless, all credit to Willis and his team who have put the Circuit of Ireland back on the world rally map again.

But it is money, not plaudits, which will determine its future.

Belfast Telegraph

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