What does Wexford’s exit mean for Ireland’s rally return?

For the past two months, Wexford Stages Rally has been the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel for Irish rallying. A return to the sights, sounds, and smells of rally cars on Ireland’s closed roads hinged on the south-east event.

As coronavirus cases dropped through June and July the two-day rally looked more and more likely to run on the first weekend of September.

In the end, it was all too good to be true. A renewed growth of cases at the start of August meant restrictions in Ireland weren’t lifted.

The final piece to Wexford’s puzzle just didn’t come together when last week the Irish government decided to defer its move to Phase 4 of the country’s Covid-19 recovery plan.

Current rulings allow a maximum of 200 people to meet in large outdoor gatherings rather than 500 people deemed acceptable in Phase 4.

Wexford Motor Club had plans in place to work with 500 people in one area. The limit of 200 people in one area, however, wasn’t enough and the club announced the rally’s postponement.

So what now? Where does Irish rallying go after the first weekend in September?

The first thing to note is that this year’s Wexford Stages Rally has been postponed, not cancelled. Rallying around Enniscorthy before the end of the year isn’t completely off the cards but at present. It is believed that the club has requested to run a one-day rally over October’s bank holiday weekend (25 October).

On paper, there are two other rallies still on Motorsport Ireland’s revised 2020 calendar, Ravens Rock and Killarney Historic, due to run in October and November respectively.

Like Wexford, they will almost certainly need a move to Phase 4 to allow their events to run. 200 people in one area equates to a maximum of 40 cars per service area. Not a lot.

Carrick-on-Suir and Killarney Motor Clubs will both miss out on the guidance from Wexford who had hoped to share feedback following their own event.

Wexford’s non-running certainly makes the task more difficult for the next rally to be “the first one back.”

The government’s ruling is a bitter blow for Wexford Motor Club who had really taken it upon themselves to spearhead a return to rallying in Ireland. And they were in the perfect position to do so with club chairman, Garry Bradley, training Covid compliance to companies day in, day out over the past few months.

With Bradley’s know-how, the club’s hard-working members, and the backing of local residents a well thought out plan was created. Multiple service areas, temperature screening and tracking were all in the pipeline.

With Sport Ireland approving dual occupancy of a rally car, Wexford Stages Rally was ready to run.

It wasn’t meant to be, however, and now the baton is passed onto the next set of organisers.

As this year trickles away, whether we see three rallies, two, one, or perhaps none at all, it’s time to think about how we tackle events in 2021.

We all hope that a cure will magically appear for this horrid virus but will the challenges of next year be any different to those we currently face?

For organisers of events next year it is time to face the reality that they all may need to formulate a Wexford-like Covid compliant plan. We can’t expect things to be as they were six months ago.

A sensible plan to limit contact, to enable smaller groups of people, but something that makes rallying’s return feasible.

Yes, we need a move to Phase 4 but we can’t expect the government to do all the work for us.

A Covid compliant rally can’t work without more lenient restrictions but at the same time, more lenient restrictions won’t just open the doors to rallying as it was.

Now is the time to think smartly, plan carefully, and hopefully for everyone’s benefit Irish rallying will be back throughout the country.

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Photos courtesy of Lorcan Barron and David Hughes

Adam Hall

Brought up in the Irish countryside, Adam was never far away from the world of rallying. From following local events like the Circuit of Ireland and the Ulster Rally, Adam now puts the stories from stages all around the world into words through his website Rally Insight.

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