The World Rally Championship was launched at the Autosport Show at the NEC in Birmingham yesterday, with a strong interest from the Emerald Isle.
The 13-round series has a strong Irish connection pulsing through the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team and the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team.
Dungannon’s Kris Meeke and Killarney’s Paul Nagle spearhead Citroen’s challenge through the entire series while Waterford’s Craig Breen, will compete in 10 rounds. Breen’s car will be driven by Sebastien Loeb on the other three.
Antrim’s Chris Patterson will co-drive for Khalid Al Qassimi on selected events.
Ford has increased its technical and financial support to the M-Sport team that won both the Manufacturer and Driver’s title last year and central to that support was Cork native Gerard Quinn, Head of Ford Motorsport in Europe.
One of the demands of world champion Sebastien Ogier remaining with M-Sport was the increase in Ford’s involvement.
Money wasn’t the only priority as Quinn explained yesterday.“The development of the car was key to him staying with the Fiesta beyond 2017 and the assurance from Ford that we would increase our support to M-Sport as a global organisation,” explained Quinn.
“We will evolve the technology and build on the competitiveness we had in 2017. Ford paid for the development of the new Fiesta in a programme that began with M-Sport in 2015 and it brought the success to us last year.”
As a manufacturer, Ford holds the responsibility for the homologation of the Fiesta.
Meeke is looking forward to the opening round in Monte Carlo. “We have always found ourselves in a good position on the Monte, for sure it’s an event that can catch you out at any moment.
The weather can change at the click of a finger. You have to rely on your experience and cross your fingers as well. The aim is to be more consistent.”
Breen added: “It’s now time to turn up the wick - it’s our second season in the WRC and I need to get on the podium more frequently.”
It was also revealed that Mads Ostberg will drive for Citroen on Rally Sweden.
Also announced at the show was the return of five-times Irish Tarmac Rally champion Eugene Donnelly, who will campaign a Hyundai R5. He is likely to either use Nenagh Rally or the Mayo Rally as a shakedown for the West Cork Rally, the first round of the ITC.
On the domestic front, the Motorsport Ireland National Navigation Trial Championship and the Munster Navigation series dovetail on tomorrow night’s Kanturk based Cork “1000” Shakes Navigation Trial.
Although the event is listed as round four of the national campaign, the previous round, the Midland Navigation Trial was cancelled.
Cork navigators occupy the top two places with Donoughmore’s Patrick O’Leary holding a one-point lead from Togher’s Muireann Hayes.
Monaghan’s Derek Mackarel (with Hayes as navigator) and Ovens driver Owen Murphy (who is navigated by Daire Hayes) are the leading duo in the driver’s section.
The championship remains very open, with Cork crews such as Donal Healy/ Denis O’Donovan and Dermot Whelton/Mark McCarthy also capable of picking up strong points.
The 120-mile north Cork route is as much a challenge for the organisers as it is for the competitors. Based at the Kanturk Rugby Club, the route is over Ordnance Survey sheets 72 and 79. The first car away is at 11.39pm and the event is due to finish around 6am.
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