The winner of last years Circuit of Ireland Rally Craig Breen from Waterford tops this years entry list while double World Boxing champion Carl Frampton admits his experience in the navigators seat of a Citroen Racing DS3 R5 with Carryduff’s Jonny Greer at the helm was “scary enough”.
Just yesterday the top entries were released for the Circuit of Ireland Rally which incorporates the European Rally Championship, British Rally Championship, Irish Tarmac Rally Championship and the Northern Ireland Rally Championship. However for now i am going to take you back a week to the media test day at Lisburn’s Eikon Exhibition Centre.
This test gave journalists, presenters and photographers a chance to experience what rallying is all about first hand and indeed generated quite a bit of interest when top personalities such as mind-reader and illusionist David Meade was joined by double world champion boxer Carl Frampton for the ride of a lifetime alongside some top local drivers.
Meade’s experience was in the high revving Skoda Fabia S2000 of Alan Carmichael whilst Frampton got to grips with being a passenger aside Jonny Greer in the Citroen DS3 R5 car. Both men, who have put Northern Ireland on the map by excelling within their fields and indeed face a lot of adrenaline through their career, both loved the experience and we caught up with them on camera as they stepped out of the cars.
With such great support for this years rally in the lead up to the weekend of the event (7-9 April), hype around the stages and entry list has been building gradually and indeed this years Circuit of Ireland will visit some of the most challenging and breathtaking stages the country has to offer.
On Thursday 7th at 10:00, top drivers will start a practice session just outside Templepatrick, at Tardree before heading to Antrim Castle Gardens for 12:00 to re-group. From here the top drivers will return to Tardree for their qualifying stage at 12:48 after which many drivers from down the entry list may well use this stage as a shakedown until 16:00. Lisburn’s Linen Museum will then host the ceremonial start from 18:00.
Friday 8th will see the opening stage of the rally “Cairncastle” start at 09:51 in the hills above Glenarm and continue through the “Knockboy” stage close to Broughshane before finishing the first loop of the day through the monster 31km stage “The Glens” which runs from Slieveanorra Forest right through Torr Head to Ballycastle where at 13:14 the cars will regroup at the Bushmills Distillery.
Crews will then head to Ballymoney and the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre for 14:01 for remote service before undertaking the second loop of the day where at 15:05 “Knockboy” will once again run close to Broughshane before the cars head towards Cushendall for the “Glendun” stage at 16:06.
From the Glens to Belfast it is for the crews as the Kings Hall in Belfast see’s a service halt from 18:04 in which the cars will be readied for the “Newtownards TT” at which tens of thousands of people will be out in the town center to witness the spectacle of high octane and bright lights at 19:50.
It is an early start on Saturday 9th for the teams as they head for “Bucks Head” between Downpatrick and Seaforde for a 09:18 stage start which is followed by the infamous “Hamilton’s Folly” between Castlewellan and Ballynahinch at 09:58 and before they reach the regroup in Banbridge they must tackle the “Bulls Brook” stage SE of Dromore at 10:47.
After regroup in Banbridge town, cars will then descend on the “Banbridge” stage N of the town at 11:52 followed by a road section to the King’s Hall in Belfast for service at 12:47. The final loop of the rally see’s “Bucks Head at 14:14, “Hamilton’s Folly” at 14:54 and “Bulls Brook” at 15:43 with a second regroup in Banbridge at 16:06 before they head into the final stage of the event at 16:42 which will see the second passing of the “Banbride” stage.
The King’s Hall will once again come alive to the sounds of rally cars and fans with a final service at 17:37 before the International finishers head off to the beautiful surroundings of Queens University, Belfast for the podium finish with the Nation crews having their own ceremony at the King’s Hall, Belfast.
Event Director Bobby Willis commented “It is incredible how the rally has grown over the past few years, from the dark days of less than a decade ago, to become one of the iconic events of Europe again.” Willis continued “I’m especially thrilled with the strength and breadth of this year’s entry which will see drivers from as far afield as Australia and China taking part.
This is quite possibly the strongest and highest quality entry i have seen for the rally in modern times. Will Breen be able to hold off highly experienced Welsh man Elfyn Evans who currently leads the British Championship, current ERC series champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz from Poland, Russian Alexey Lukyanuk, leader of this year’s ERC series or fellow countryman Keith Cronin who’s entered in an identical car and currently leads the Irish Championship?
LET BATTLE COMMENCE FROM THE GLENS OF ANTRIM TO THE FOOTHILLS OF DOWN…
If you would have any interest in being a volunteer to help marshal any of the rally, or should you wish to help at any of the re-group areas please please check out http://www.circuitofireland.net/ as these types of events need as many (wo)men volunteers as possible to help then run safely and on time.
For those readers already attending the event, drive safely and stay within the law’s of the road, keep safe on the stages, follow marshal’s instructions and always have a quick exit route planned should a car leave the road!
Words & Photos: Graham Curry