The Meteor Electrical Circuit of Ireland Rally on April 14th-17th, round two of the Pirelli Irish Tarmac Rally Championship is shaping up to be a superb sporting occasion. The three-day rally is all change in 2006, with a new organisational structure, new stages and a new headquarters in Derry.
Leading the 62 strong International field is winner for the last three years, Belfast’s Derek McGarrity in the latest Subaru World Rally Car. He is aiming to break to record for recording four straight victories in a row. It is looking likely that he will have Belfast co driver Chris Patterson on the pacenotes. It was Chris who guided Derek to his first Circuit of Ireland win in 2003, and in recent seasons Chris has been doing all of his co driving at World Championship level for the likes of Kris Meeke, and this year he is leading the Production World Rally Championship with Nasser Al Attiyah. “At the minute I’m not 100% sure whether I can do the Circuit, but I would dearly like to do it, and would love to win it again. I know Derek is really up for it, and there’s no doubt the Circuit is still the most famous rally in Ireland. I could not believe in 2003 how many people around the World really recognise the event,” said Chris. “I haven’t really been rallying at home now for a few seasons, but from what I see of the Irish Tarmac series, the competition is extremely fierce, and rallying appears to be very healthy in general in this country at the moment.”
One crew that will be hard to beat however will be Maghera’s Eugene Donnelly with Paul Kiely on the notes in their Toyota Corolla WRC. Although now over six years old, the Esker team are leading the Pirelli Irish Tarmac series after round one in Galway, but they have yet to win at Easter. The Circuit has not always been fortuitous for Eugene. “It hasn’t been the luckiest event for me in the past. We had a major roll in 2003, which has been shown many times on television, and then the car gave up on the final day last year. I have to admit my main priority this year is to collect good points for the championship.” There is a lot new about the event this year as it moves base to Derry, a move that Eugene sees as a positive step.. “It’s good to see rallying moving into new areas so that it involves new people and different hoteliers and the like can see the benefits of having the rally in their area. I know the sponsor, John Conway of Meteor Electrical is very enthusiastic about the event and is introducing some new ideas on the running of the event. He very much wants it to succeed and it’s healthy to see new ideas being put into the sport.”
The number one seed however will be young Gareth MacHale in his Ford Focus WRC. Gareth receives the number one slot due due to him being an FIA seeded driver after his excellent sixth place finish in the World Rally Championship Rally Mexico. Meath driver Tim McNulty will have the very latest S11 Subaru to play with on the Circuit. Tim was the driver to put Eugene Donnelly under pressure in Galway, and could be the dark horse for the Meteor Circuit. Also on the list is five times Tarmac Champion Austin MacHale. The Dubliner would love to add another Circuit win to his C.V before his retirement from the very top level of Irish rallying. In a similar Focus to Austin’s will be Wexford’s Eamon Boland, fresh from his fine second in Galway, whilst Peader Hurson from Warrenpoint, will hoping to get his 2000 WRC Subaru onto the podium like he did in Galway. One name who will sadly not be entering is Andrew Nesbitt. The 2002 Circuit of Ireland winner and two times Tarmac Champion took the fight with Derek McGarrity right down to the final spectator stage last year, but this year he has elected not to contest the Circuit.
Added to the WRC cars, the superb Production Group N battle, promises ro be a thriller. James Foley, Roy White, Seamus Leonard, Phillip Morrow and Garry Jennings lead the Mitsubishi attack, with round one winner Colm Murphy top of the Subaru brigade. A Production Group N World Champion Niall McShea, will start the two day National Rallyat the wheel of the ex Sydney Meeke rear wheel drive 2.5 Ford Orion. An exciting machine to mingle with the 58 National competitors.
It all promises to be a motorsport feast over the Easter weekend with the ceremonial start on Good Friday kicking off the weekend’s action.
Hope they cut out this press release nonsense - we all know the top few cars and the top gpN if thats our interest. All we ask is a simple entry list - surely they can organise this, if only the Nationals and Historics.