Top Circuit of Ireland Rally competitors will converge at Ballycultra Village in the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum on Thursday 17 April from 11:00 for the official Qualifying Stage of this year’s Circuit of Ireland, the first pure asphalt Rally on the FIA European Rally Championship calendar and a counting round of the new-for-2014 FIA ERC Junior Championship.
Hosted by North Down Borough Council and facilitated by the award winning Folk Museum which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, the Qualifying Stage will see designated priority drivers take part in a special closed road stage nearby, to determine the official starting order on the first competitive day of rallying the following day.
Priority crews, who are selected by event and championship officials according to their previous performances and international seeding, will undertake two runs of Free Practice from 11:00 before the Qualifying Stage gets underway at 13:03. Measuring 4.15 kilometres in length the qualifying stage will be held within the Holywood Hills area.
The fastest driver will win the ability to be the first to select their preferred starting position for day one, with the second fastest driver next to choose and so on until all priority drivers have made their choice. The official selections will take place as part of the Ceremonial Start at Belfast City Hall that evening (Thursday April 17). Crews competing without priority status can avail of the venue for shakedown from 13:45- 16:00 to finalise their car set-up for the following day’s action.
Taking centre stage at the launch and linking the past into the present was one of the Museum’s oldest exhibits – a unique MMC 10 hp classic car dating back to 1903 – alongside Northern Ireland Rally Champion Derek McGarrity’s newly acquired ex Dani Sordo and Chris Atkinson 01B Mini.
Joining North Down Deputy Mayor, Cllr Jennifer Gilmour, MLA Gordon Dunne and Cllr Stephen Dunne at the special Qualifying Stage event launch was the 1964 Circuit of Ireland winning co-driver Terry Harryman who clinched victory in a mini cooper with driver Ronnie McCartney.
Welcoming the Circuit of Ireland to the North Down region, Deputy Mayor of North Down, Cllr Jennifer Gilmour said, “We’re delighted that North Down is once again included in the Circuit of Ireland Rally programme. It’s a hugely iconic and historic sporting event and the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum will provide an excellent backdrop offering global viewers through Eurosport a distinct flavour of one of our top tourist attractions. The Borough is looking forward to meeting Rally competitors and their back up teams from all over Europe as well as fans and new visitors to the region.”
Event Director, Bobby Willis paid tribute to North Down Borough Council for their support and contribution and also thanked local MLA Gordon Dunne and his son Stephen, a Borough Council member who were both instrumental in setting up the Museum based Qualifying Stage.
“Gordon and Stephen Dunne are well known motorsport fans and we very much appreciate their help and support in bringing the Circuit to such a fabulous tourist setting in North Down. The Ulster Folk & Transport Museum is one of Northern Ireland’s top attractions and both rally visitors and TV viewers will be massively impressed by the heritage and setting for our all-important Qualifying Stage. I’d also like to thank Cllr Gilmour and North Down Borough Council for hosting Thursday afternoon’s shakedown.”
“Through its extensive classic motor vehicle exhibits and the annual Cultra Hill Climb with the Thoroughbred Sports Car Club NI, the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum has a clear synergy with motorsport. I‘m confident our competitors will relish taking on the challenging surrounding roads as part of this qualifying stage for the main competitive stages of the Circuit.”
Gordon Dunne MLA has been a long supporter of key motorsport events including the Circuit of Ireland. “Both my son Stephen and I are avid fans and it’s wonderful for the Borough to host part of such a prestigious international event. The eyes of the motorsport world will focus on Northern Ireland and it provides such a wonderful opportunity to showcase our top attractions, such as the Museum, in the North Down area. The region has had a long tradition and a huge following for rallying and we’re all looking forward to seeing star drivers both local and international perform to the very best of their ability.”
The Museum’s Road Transport Curator, Mark Kennedy is thrilled to welcome the Circuit of Ireland Rally to Cultra for the first time in the event’s history. “I have happy memories of the Circuit starting in Bangor during the 1970’s and it will make my Easter to see them visit the Museum at Cultra.”
Entries for the 2014 Circuit of Ireland are now open and will close on Tuesday 1st April.
Organisers are in the process of finalising arrangements for what promises to be a bumper week-end of motorsport and the management team are calling for additional volunteers to join the existing team of marshals. For more details and to register log onto www.circuitofireland.net or call the volunteer hotline 07732 612261.