Assembly arguments and party politics have always been a feature of Northern Ireland. With the most recent fall-out yet to be resolved, its effect is being felt by Ireland’s most prestigious rally, the Circuit of Ireland.
The Easter event may well return in 2018 but it won’t be running at anywhere near the level of its most recent editions. The Circuit has already suffered a year out of the European Rally Championship in ’17 due to difficulty in acquiring government funding. But the current Stormont saga has scuppered any chance of an ERC return in ’18.
Non-operational since last December, a re-election in March proved unsuccessful in kick-starting the Northern Ireland Assembly. Now, in September, negotiations have recommenced following the summer break between the leading parties in the hope of getting Stormont functioning again.
Without government funding, the Circuit of Ireland simply cannot bring enough money to the ERC’s negotiating table.
This does not mean the event isn’t an attractive investment opportunity. Just look at the facts from the 2016 event:
53,000 visitors and 42 million TV viewers worldwide. Add to that the 2015 Circuit of Ireland Rally winning Tourism NI’s best event.
The Circuit of Ireland’s director, Bobby Willis, has brought the rally back into world rallying’s limelight. It’s incomparable to the week-long endurance rally of the “golden era” but it offered something special since its return to the ERC. The 2016 event having record numbers of R5 rally cars as well as world-class stages.
Hamiltons Folly and The Glens (Torr Head) not only offered two stages of sheer rallying mastery but they were also located in critical tourist spots, the Mourne Mountains and the Causeway Coastal Route respectively. 2016’s run through The Glens was described as “the most difficult stage of my life” by double ERC champion, Kajetan Kajetanowicz, who was backed up by Citroen World Rally Championship driver Craig Breen calling it, “The best bit of tarmac in the world.”
Irish fans, both north and south of the border, are proud of their rallying heritage. Whether it be Billy Coleman’s escapades through the 1970’s and 80’s, Andrew Nesbitt’s famous Subaru’s or most recently Kris Meeke and Craig Breen’s impact on the WRC.
It remains Ireland’s best hope of a truly international motorsport event and you’d be foolish to underestimate Willis’s aspirations for the event. After all, the facts are there to back up any desire to get it onto the global rallying stage.
All the boxes are ticked – the best stages in the world, fans not limited by quality or quantity and a smart investment opportunity backed up by solid facts and figures.
The Emerald Isle deserves a big motorsport event such as the Circuit of Ireland. It has shown that it’s possible and that the desire is there for it to happen. It’s now just a waiting game until the politicians representing Northern Ireland move on from a troubled past and focus on bringing the country forward into a bright future.
Let’s make sure, for the good of the country and its rich rallying heritage, a government is in place at Stormont to make successful events like the Circuit of Ireland possible in the future.
Written by Adam Hall.
Photos by Kevin Glendinning, KG Rally Pics.