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How rallying’s challenge changed in order to survive

Rallying in Ireland has evolved over the decades. A change in times has forced changes in format. Many of which have altered the heart and soul of what inspired rallying’s very existence – the challenge.

This is my first Saturday morning column on Rally Insight, as I embark on a new challenge I felt it was suitable to write about one.

Two weeks ago I read a perfectly crafted piece on the Circuit of Ireland’s remarkable history. The story was eloquently written by distinguished journalist Sammy Hamill.

The article coincided with a catch-up I had planned with Sammy and of course, the conversation veered to how he had witnessed rallying change since starting as the Belfast Telegraph’s motorsport correspondent back in 1973.

Irish rallying in the grand old days was a true test of car and crew against the countryside roads which lay in their path. Stages were tackled without pacenotes and cars were undeveloped, it was as pure as it could get.

As with all forms of motorsport, when the competitive edge takes hold there will always be ways and means found to seek an advantage. An unfair advantage was found which provoked the first change – the introduction of pacenotes. The challenge of tackling stages “blind” was to be a thing of the past.

The glory days continued through the 1980s with a lengthy list of World Rally stars visiting Irish shores to tackle world-renowned events like the Circuit of Ireland.

The Circuit is a talking point in itself. The five-day tour from Belfast to the Wicklow Mountains and Killarney Lakes before heading back to Northern Ireland was like nothing else. Crews and cars tackled the rally, stage by stage, threading their way through the Emerald Isle.

Sammy’s story on the Circuit of Ireland’s halcyon days inspires memories of the good old days. But as his headline reads, those days are long gone.

Rallying had to change in order to survive. Marathon events are no longer feasible and repeated loops of stages are now the staple diet of the rallying calendar.

Do we miss such events? Yes. Can we have these events back? Unfortunately not.

We often wish for rallying to go back to the way it was 40 years ago. As much as we want it to happen, it can’t and it won’t.

The challenge has changed. We’ve lost the marathons but we have gained something in the modern “sprints”. Events are won by seconds rather than the regular several-minute margins of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The class of Alastair Fisher’s victory in Galway and the drama of Donagh Kelly’s win in Mayo are just two examples of the thrilling nature in which Irish rallying currently exists.

Irish rallying has a glorious past. It still has an immense community and portfolio of events to tackle the next decades. As the challenge faced by the drivers has evolved over the years, the challenge for every stakeholder in rallying remains the same. We must support the current version of rallying to avoid it diluting any further.

Photo: Kevin Glendinning

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