The Circuit of Ireland, Donegal International and the Rally of the Lakes. Ireland has a strong list of famous asphalt events. Of the Irish Tarmac rounds, it’s the Ulster Rally that has been synonymous with the British Rally Championship. Then with a surprise news story earlier this month the West Cork Rally was revealed as a second ITRC event on the BRC’s 2019 calendar.
Based around the quaint Irish town of Clonakilty, the West Cork Rally has become a favourite among spectators and competitors alike. With its recent popularity, it is easy to forget that the South-West event only joined the ITRC in 2015. Going from strength-to-strength in those four years West Cork now has the opportunity to shine on the forefront of British rallying.
BRC manager Iain Campbell saw the potential during his visit to the rally in March. Along with the event’s St. Patrick’s weekend timing Campbell also hinted that advice from Irish runners competing in the BRC aided his decision to bring the championship to West Cork.
The approval of competitors has consistently been a key focus for the West Cork Rally organisers.
“West Cork has always been popular,” said Clerk of the Course Greg McCarthy. “But it has grown since our inclusion in the ITRC. It’s a rally run by competitors for competitors.
“Clonakilty is a great rally base, a very welcoming town with great stages all close by. That makes it very compact for both competitors and spectators alike.”
Having top-class stages within close proximity to Clonakilty is a great aide to the rally’s aim of keeping the competing crews happy. Ring and Ardfield provide drivers, like five-time winner Donagh Kelly, with asphalt tests that justify the love of the rally from not only Ireland but its neighbours across the Irish Sea.
Competitor satisfaction is an initiative that some of Ireland’s other international rallies have struggled with since West Cork’s introduction to the Tarmac Championship. Competitor feedback had the Ulster Rally relocate its base from Derry-Londonderry to Antrim. An improvement in stage quality was countered by a reduction in quantity. Ulster Rally’s unexpected situation of having to share Antrim’s stages with the Easter Stages pushed the August event’s road/stage mile ratio to undesirable levels.
West Cork’s ability to offer a compact yet challenging two-day rally must not be taken for granted.
As well as pleasing the Irish competitor, West Cork has a strong history of crews travelling from the mainland. The event had around 70 overseas crews between 1981-84 and went on to host the Motoring News Rally Championship from ’84 to ’97.
British drivers to win the event include Tony Pond, Russell Brookes and John Price while more recently John Dalton has finished runner-up on three occasions in his Darrian T90. Perhaps a British driver will loosen Kelly’s grip on West Cork honours when the BRC visits next March.
One concern presented after West Cork’s BRC news was that the Irish clubman competitors who have supported the rally, helping its rise into the limelight, may suffer from more international crews arriving in Clonakilty next year.
The event’s press officer, Kevin O’Driscoll, was keen to offer his encouragement to those concerned.
“We plan on running the event as we always have done,” he said. “So any competitor who has travelled to Clonakilty over the years will not need to worry that big changes are on the way.”
With six months to go before the UK and Ireland’s top R5 drivers make the trek to West Cork the team planning the event looks set to stick to its guns by planning an event that it knows pleases both the crews between the hedges and the spectators behind them.