Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Rally changes course in switch to popular Antrim base

 

By Sammy Hamill

The Ulster Rally is returning to the Antrim area in 2018 and will again be a round of both the Irish Tarmac and British championships.

Originally scheduled for a third year in Londonderry, the organisers have switched back to an Antrim base, popular when it was hosted by the Junction One Centre between 2009 and 2012.

Listed for August 17/18 next year, it will again be backed by the John Mulholland Motors Group with support from Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council.

The rally will also be a round of the European Rally Trophy, but not part of the European championship.

Won in the past two years by Elfyn Evans and Keith Cronin, the rally was expected to be again based at Ebrington Square in Derry, but continuing development work at the former army barracks has made accommodating the service park difficult.

Rally director Robert Harkness said full details of the 2018 plans would be announced later, but he indicated there would be a new start/finish venue with two re-groups in the Antrim/Newtownabbey area. He also plans to include new stages in the route as well as "some old favourites".

The Ulster Rally, run by the Northern Ireland Car Club, has been voted the best event in the British championship five times in the last seven years.

Meanwhile, one of the favourites for victory on the event will almost certainly be former British Junior champion Marty McCormack, who this weekend turns the clock back to take on a different challenge - the RAC Rally.

Named after the great Roger Albert Clark, it is a throwback to the old RAC Rally of the Sixties and Seventies and features cars from that era.

Based at Leominster in Hertfordshire, it stretches over four days, covering England, Wales and Scotland, with drivers facing over 300 miles of special stages in a route covering more than 600 miles.

For McCormack, more familiar in an R5 Skoda Fabia, it's an opportunity to return to one of his favourite cars, a Mk2 Ford Escort, in an attempt to repeat his 2012 victory.

The Escort has undergone an extensive rebuild, which was only completed at 2am last Saturday in time for brother Greg to give it a shakedown run on the final round of the Northern Ireland championship, the Sunset Rally, later in the day.

"Thankfully he took good care of it and it is ready to go," said the Draperstown driver.

"I love this event. It is real old-fashioned rallying and a big challenge."

Other Irish drivers in the 120-strong entry list include Adrian Hetherington, Frank Cunningham and Drexel Gillespie, as well as seven-times Circuit of Ireland winner Jimmy McRae.

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