2018 is here and Irish rallying has arrived with a new event, #Herospec Rallysprint seizing the opportunity to kick off the new season. This event seemed to promise a lot but for whatever reason, it didn’t seem to attract the imagination of drivers or spectators. Will it return?
With news that the traditional first round of the Irish Tarmac Championship, the Galway International has been cancelled, due to a lack of sufficient finance, the Tarmac Championship will not commence until St Patrick’s weekend in West Cork. The new year also sees a new sponsor for the Tarmac Championship, Dance to Tipperary, being “revealed” late last year. It would be false to say announced as it appeared more a soft launch! The limited details that have been made available of the sponsorship and promotion of this year’s Tarmac Championship have left both competitors and rally fans underwhelmed. I’m not aware of the full details of the deal but to say they have not been welcomed with open arms would be an understatement.
From the outside, and with the limited information available, it seems to be a very unusual deal that has been brokered between the TROA and Dance to Tipperary. There are questions being asked on social media such as; why haven’t TV deals been announced, at official launch why were no motoring/rallying press invited, the existing social media team have been removed and don’t seem to have been replaced? Is it unusual for a Championship organiser to hand over all promotional activities to a sponsor? Dance to Tipperary has hinted at exciting plans to take the Championship to a new level with innovative plans. They have yet to put any flesh on the bones of these plans but it’ll be interesting to see what these ideas are.
In the modern era when there is a lack of information, rightly or wrongly, social media becomes the platform to thrash out these issues. Questions do need to be asked and answers need to be given! Competitors are trying to secure sponsorship deals and the promise of television coverage would make the sport more appealing, clubs also need to secure sponsors and raise sufficient funds to ensure the events can still run with falling competitors’ numbers. When you have journalists, drivers and senior officials asking questions should we as Irish rallying fans be concerned?
Clonakilty Blackpudding sponsored the championship for the last four years and during this time the championship underwent a revamp. WRC cars were virtually outlawed, no longer being eligible to score championship points. Two new TV deals were brokered in this time but it is fair to say the championship has been revitalised. Hopefully, the upward trend continues into 2018 and beyond.
Speaking about the promotion of our sport, I note the vast amount of Irish who travel to the Autosport Show, indeed it was described as like walking round Milford service area at the Donegal Rally! Is there an opportunity being missed out here? Should representation be there from our main championships to highlight all that is positive about Irish Rallying? We have the 100’s of ambassadors already onsite ready to tell everyone and anyone how much of a challenge Irish Rallying poses. Approximately 90,000 people visit the show over four days and it would be an ideal opportunity to sell our sport. The BRC has a stand at the show and this showcases their Championship, Den Motorsport exhibit at the show as it acts as a showroom for their top-class product. Initial reports from this year’s Autosport Show are extremely positive about the launch of the WRC Championship there and already there is talk to repeat this next year.
In 2017 six of the top10 points scorers in the Historic Tarmac Championship were UK based drivers. These crews have come to these shores based on the recommendations of fellow competitors who have come over and loved the stages and the camaraderie. Looking at the other five main Championships across the island of Ireland there were only four crews from outside Ireland. Should it be left to other competitors to promote rallying?
Speaking of the Autosport Show, Eugene Donnelly caught us all on the hop by announcing a three-year deal with MRF Tyres to run a Hyundai R5 in the Tarmac Championship. Thursday was to be the day all the World Rally Teams showed their 2018 cars to the public for the first time. Donnelly being an astute man saw an opportunity; the unveiling of the World Teams was to be at 11 O’clock so he announced his plans before 10 and he was the buzz in the arena for the first hour of the show. Eugene divides opinion but he can still capture the public imagination. Not only were the Irish contingent at the show filling our news feed with this launch but the British guys were equally excited.
To attract a sponsor of the calibre of MRF Tyres into Irish rallying is massive, they are a multibillion-euro company and a deal of this magnitude needs to be warmly welcomed. It’s not so long-ago Donnelly started using Kumho Tyres and at the time everyone scoffed but look how impressive that has turned out to be. Has Eugene still the prowess behind the wheel? At 51 years old he may struggle against the young guns, but with Eugene has development driver and McGeehan Motorsport on the spanners anything is possible. Eugene has stated if he feels he isn’t producing the goods at the end of year one the team will look at bringing a young prodigy in to take over the driving.
Unfortunately, the ‘social media’ critics were quick to jump on the story. In 2015 Eugene had derided the S2000/R5 cars saying he didn’t agree these cars should be the pinnacle of Irish Rallying and that the World Rally Cars should be kept as the main points-scoring cars. At the time Eugene felt the Championship organisers were making a big mistake. Interviews from the time were shared and much mocking was done. These same ‘critics’ only a few weeks ago had congratulated Joe McGonigle on doing a deal to compete in the Irish National Championship in a MINI WRC moving out of an R5 car. Joe in 2015 had been one of the strongest advocates for the move to S2000/R5. (Work that one out!).
Personally, I believe anyone should be free to compete in whatever class or type of car they wish. How often have we ‘heard’ when entry lists are published, “why hasn’t such and such entered”? Everyone who enters a rally in Ireland has had to earn the money to be there, they don’t have to justify their right to be there or in some cases not be there. Work, family or other commitments take precedence over their hobby.
2018 is here so let’s be positive, welcome everyone who is able to get on the stages for our entertainment and shout to everyone what an exciting sport we have, “come and take a look, we know you’ll love it”.
Images thanks to Conor Edwards, Adam Hall, KG Rally Pics, Irish Tarmac Championship & BRC