Slimmed down Ulster Rally on the move to Newry
The Ulster Rally is to undergo radical changes for 2019, including a new format and new base.
A round of both the Irish Tarmac and British championships, it will drop its traditional two-day schedule for a single day of competition and move to a new base in Newry.
The event, run by the Northern Ireland Car Club, has regularly been voted the best in the British championship but the past three years have brought increasing problems. Its base in Londonderry has caused concern, while the weather and the disproportionately high road mileage between stages due to hosting the rally in Antrim have also been worrisome.
Now it is falling into line with most of the other rounds of the British series by going to a one-day format and switching to the south Down area.
Richard Swanston is the new rally director and believes the event needed a revamp after failing to appeal to crews last year, explaining: "We found it difficult to get the correct balance between road mileage and stage mileage. The competitors told us that and we have listened and acted accordingly.
"The two north Antrim stages, Torr Head and Glendun, offered something unique but I'm confident the stages we have chosen to go with in the Newry and Banbridge areas are just as good.
"They have been used at various points in the past but they are fresh to the Ulster Rally."
There will be nine stages in total, a loop of three covered three times.
The Ulster Rally, on August 17, is round five of the British championship and round six of the Irish Tarmac series. Next up for both championships is the West Cork Rally on March 16-17.
Meanwhile, Marty McCormack, a former winner of the British section of the Ulster Rally, is the top seed for the Limerick round of the Irish Forestry series.
McCormack won the opening round in his R5 Skoda Fabia last month and heads an entry list in which the top crews are all Ulster drivers.
Cathan McCourt, Niall Henry, Conor McCourt and Patrick O'Brien are all in the top five for Sunday's event which is based at Rockchapel.