The smell and roar of engines filled the air at Titanic Quarter in Belfast, as media, VIPs and competition winners attended a test day and had a sneak preview of the incredible Titanic Super Special Stage which has just been completed ahead of this Easter’s Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland Rally.
Celebrities including former Ireland and Ulster rugby captain Simon Best experienced the drive of his life today as he was sped around the newly completed spectator stage which will form the opening stage of this year’s Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland.
More than 2,000 tonnes of spoil have been removed from the site to shape a spectacular 2km stage that will enthral the thousands expected to pack the grandstands as part of the Titanic Festival on Good Friday 6 April with more than 120 competitors and visitors from around the globe destined for Belfast for the opening stage as this year the famous “Circuit” becomes the third round of the global Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) which will be broadcast to millions courtesy of Eurosport.
Former rugby legend Simon Best experienced the thrilling stage as a co-driver travelling at speeds of over 100 mph over the tight winding stage. Simon will be driving come Good Friday as the first driver announced to take part in the Celebrity Challenge taking place before the Titanic Super Special Stage.
The former Ulster star who has more than 100 caps for Ulster said: “That was an incredible experience!.. I have followed the Circuit of Ireland for many years as a fan, but to be actually sitting in the car is unbelievable. The acceleration is unreal and the skills of the competitors in keeping the car on the stage is truly amazing. I’m looking forward to going to Rally school and then competing on Titanic Super Special Stage on Good Friday. Hopefully I’ll keep her between the hedges! The stage is brilliant and families and rally fans are in for a treat this Easter weekend.
The inclusion of the Rally in the IRC series will profile this country to a massive global audience in a very important year for tourism in 2012.” The family action will begin on Good Friday with a ceremonial start at Belfast City Hall at 4pm where families will be able to meet and greet the drivers before the action moves to Titanic Quarter.
Ahead of the competitive first special stage of the rally which starts at 5pm, families at the Titanic Quarter will be treated to a motorsport spectacular which will include:
• A Celebrity Challenge – local celebrities going head-to-head
• Former world motorcycle street bike freestyle champion Mattie Griffin
• A number of classic rally cars including Ari Vatanen’s Pikes Peak winning Peugeot 405 T16, which will make a very rare appearance.
Then it’s the main event as the Titanic Quarter comes alive with the sound of engines and smell of petrol as competitors from across Europe battle the best of the Irish drivers in a spectator stage in the shadow of the gleaming Titanic Belfast building and yards from where the famous liner was built.
Rally Director, Bobby Willis is very excited about this year’s motorsport spectacular. He said: “We are trying to widen the appeal of this famous Rally and encourage more families to attend. By bringing the Rally to a city centre we hope to attract new followers to Rallying. “Those attending the Circuit of Ireland this year will not be disappointed.
We’ve been working hard to ensure a family friendly event and one that allows spectators get closer to the action than ever before but from a safe environment. That’s exactly what the Titanic Super Special Stage will deliver – good, clean family fun! Rallying is undergoing something of a revival in Ireland and last year we witnessed that with thousands of fans following the action in Armagh and Lisburn. This year will be no different.”
Following the Titanic Super Special Stage, the rally then powers south for 14 more stages over two days centred round the historic host city of Armagh and also including a city centre Power Stage in Lisburn which attracted 15,000 spectators last year. The Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau (BVCB) will be selling tickets through the Belfast Welcome Centre for Titanic Super Special Stage priced at £12.50 standing, reserved seating £25.00 and VIP tickets £72. Family passes are also available priced £90. Tickets can be purchased online at www.circuitofireland.net or by calling 028 90 246609.
The IRC is one of the most followed motorsport series on the planet with a cumulative audience of 79 million viewers in 2010 (official 2011 data has not yet been released) and rose to prominence in the UK and Ireland when Dungannon’s Kris Meeke won the title in 2009.
Words and Pictures: Graham Curry