The Island of Ireland has always punched above its weight in many areas of Arts, Music and Sports. Our actors have starred in Hollywood Blockbusters, and Irish writers’ and artists’ work is renowned the world over.
Sport in particular has allowed Ireland both North and South to shine, as it breaks down borders and overcomes differences, bringing us together to shout for our man/woman or team. Ireland has produced the best in the world in many sports including Golf, Horse Racing and Boxing. Who doesn’t know the names of Rory McIlroy, AP McCoy and Barry McGuigan? These guys are known well beyond their sport and are household names beyond our shores.
In motorsport we have had the likes of Eddie Irvine, Eddie Jordan and Paddy Hopkirk, whose fame went beyond their abilities in sport. Paddy Hopkirk in the 60’s was a huge star and after winning the Monte Carlo Rally was the guest artist on Sunday Night at the Palladium, which had the highest viewing figures of the week at that time.
Last weekend the media outside of the rally community started to notice rallying once again and for all the right reasons. Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle’s performance on the stages was nothing short of breathtaking, taking the fight to triple world champion Sebastien Ogier, on stages that were in his backyard. The BBC, RTE and other National Broadcasters in Ireland were charting their progress over the weekend, resulting in well deserved airtime for the pair. Hopefully these broadcasters hear the praise of their endeavours. We can be very vocal when criticising lack of coverage or when they only show the bad times of the sport.
Over the last few years Craig Breen has excelled in the lower formula, and I have watched his progress with interest. Listening with pride as Craig and Gareth ‘Jaffa’ Roberts crossed the finish line of Wales Rally GB in 2011, and doing just enough to clinch WRC Academy in their Fiesta. 2012 brought the gut wrenching loss of Gareth, who died as a result of an accident on the Targa Florio Rally in Sicily. Craig showed immense strength of character to not only return to rallying (with the blessing of Gareth’s family), but to go on and win the SWRC (S2000 World Rally Championship) in his S2000 Fiesta. The last few years Craig has worked with the Peugeot Academy team in the European Rally Championship (ERC) and limited outings in the WRC. Strong performances have been blighted with bad luck, but 2016 promises so much more. Craig and Scott Martin will step into the Abu Dhabi Total DS3 WRC; they will roll over the start ramp in Sweden as team mates to Kris and Paul. Will he be told to get a finish at all costs or encouraged to show his speed. He has decent experience on snow rallies and this could be his chance to shine.
Jon Armstrong steps up to the DMack Fiesta Trophy, which consists of five rounds of the WRC in 2016, covering gravel and tarmac surfaces. This opportunity has come after winning the Vatanen Touch Award, after beating drivers from across the globe to this drive, which is supported by DMack and MSport. Jon has shown immense speed the last couple of years in the British Championship (BRC) and Northern Ireland Rally Championship and is happy on either loose or sealed surfaces.
Last year Daniel McKenna and Dean Raftery stepped up to WRC3, Daniel in particular set some very impressive times on the rallies he competed in. From the snow and ice of Monte Carlo to the high speed jumps in Finland, Daniel and Andrew set times that made the establishment take note. Dean dipped his toe in last year with limited outings and set some respectable times. It will be interesting if either crew return to the WRC in 2016.
Alastair Fisher, Keith Cronin and Robert Barrable all have had strong showings in the support championship over the last few years. Alastair and Keith are returning to the Irish Tarmac Championship, and while Robert hasn’t revealed any rallying plans for 2016, it will be interesting to see if the lure of the WRC will pull them back!