Irish rallying has recently been in the spotlight for all the right reasons, Kris, Paul, Craig & Scott have us believing that our talent is capable of taking on and beating the best in the world. Reading David Evans report in Motorsport News (The weekly Bible of all motorsport enthusiasts) following Rally Finland, in his opinion Kris and Paul’s performance in Finland was as good a performance by an Irish/British crew that he’d ever seen on the WRC, surpassing anything he’d witnessed by McRae or Burns. This is awe inspiring, as Meeke has had his critics in the past (including myself) but this year he has reached a new level. Without a doubt the confidence of a three year contract and increase testing has been a huge factor in this upturn in pace. The way Kris and Paul dealt with the jibbing from Volkswagen Supremo Jost Capito was exemplary as they used facts and humour to brush aside his cribbing. Meeke’s win is all the more impressive when you consider he’s driving a 2015 spec car which has seen little development since Loeb left the team, also it was the fastest average speed ever recorded on a WRC event with Kris and Paul beating last year’s winner Jari Matti Latvala on his home event. In securing second place Jari Matti Latvala clocked an average speed faster than his 2015 winning average!
Not forgetting Craig and Scott, they dug deep and raised their own personal bar, right from the start in Finland they made their intentions clear for all to see. Comfortably remaining inside the top ten and increasing their pace over the event. They got into a podium position, holding off many more experienced crews as they held their nerve to take a fantastic third on that Sunday afternoon which will live long in the memories off all Irish rally fans. To have two non Scandinavians’ on the podium is practically unheard of in Finland, to have two of our own is something we all should be immensely proud off.
Jon Armstrong along with Noel O’Sullivan have also been very impressive in their first year stepping up to world level. They have shown pace on all rounds of the Drive DMack Fiesta Trophy including a fantastic win on Rally Poland. In my opinion they have been the class act of the DDFT 2016.
As the expression goes “for every high there is a low” and the disappointment of Bobby Willis announcing that due to funding issues there will be no Circuit of Ireland in 2017. After attracting the British Rally Championship in 2016 to add to the European and Irish Tarmac Championship we all thought the rally was in a good place. Unfortunately funding was not forth coming for 2017 and the difficult decision had to be made. There have been many keyboard warriors lamenting that the Circuit of Ireland is only a shadow of its former self and Bobby was only in it for the money. The reality is that if Bobby hadn’t put a team in place there would almost certainly be no rally as the Circuit was on a downward spiral. Definitely we would not have had the joy of seeing the works Skodas, Santileoc Peugeots and the cream of European drivers gracing our roads. Hopefully Bobby will once again pull the Circuit up the by the scruff of the neck in 2018.
The British Rally Championship regulars were back on our shores again for the Ulster Rally last weekend, joined by our Irish Tarmac stars the rally was nail biting as initially Alastair Fisher took the lead only to drop back following a puncture. Elfyn Evans charged into the lead but with Keith Cronin breathing down his neck until Cronin suffered late mechanical dramas. Elfyn won the rally and took the British Rally Championship.
The shake up in the Irish Tarmac Championship has definitely lead to a more competitive championship. Going in to the final round in Cork it is poised to be a classic winner takes all scenario with local ace Keith Cronin chasing Alastair Fisher. With points and a half available Josh or Sam Moffett could also claim the title if the top two falter.
As many of you will know there were a few serious incidents during this year’s Ulster Rally, with enquiries underway as to the rights and wrongs of what happened but the stark reality is people are in hospital and there are others who had a very lucky escape. Safety has also raised it’s head again in the WRC with the FIA finally looking at the hinkelsteins that feature on the Panzerplatter stage, they are huge lumps of concrete designed to keep military tanks on the road and when a car hits them at speed the results are devastating. We saw this recently when Lefebvre and Moreau in the Citroen WRC DS3 were pitched at speed into a tree following a collision with one of the hinkelsteins lining the stage and previously Petter Solberg and Phil Mills only escaped serious injury due to the strength of their Subaru’s roll cage when they hit and rolled over a hinkelstein in 2004
Locally we need to remember that motorsport is extremely dangerous; we all need to take responsibility; be prepared to say when something isn’t right or dangerous. The powers that be are increasing the demands on officials, marshals and media. This has lead to a lot of the older more experienced people finding other ways of spending their free time and unfortunately it looks as if there are fewer volunteers willing to step to fill the void. Is increased training for all volunteers required? First aid training, how to deal with cars on stages that are partially blocking the road or spectators being uncooperative.
Rallying is on the brink in Ireland and the UK, it’s time we all pull together and ensure our next wave of talent have the chance to shine on our stages before they reach the world level.