Irish Tarmac Championship in danger of taking wrong turn

For many, the Irish Tarmac Championship (ITC) is at a crossroads; for more, it’s going down a cul de sac and others, it’s on a journey to nowhere.

The series, once hugely popular, has been in decline in recent years.

The most criticised aspect was the continued inclusion of both the Jim Clark Rally and the Rally Isle of Man, although both have been dropped (a term that does not sit well within the hierarchy) for the moment at least, the clubs concerned still have a vote as to how the series is run. Essentially, that is the crux of the matter.

There is a strong view that the ITC needs to change, the current rounds are surviving on their own merits. For instance, next week’s Rally of the Lakes in Killarney will always be popular by virtue of the fact that it possesses classic stages.

But are the Tarmac Rally Organisers’ Association (TROA), consisting of representation from Galway, Circuit, Killarney, Donegal, Ulster and Cork 20 — as well as Jim Clark and Isle of Man events — really tackling the issue?

The Irish Examiner understands that three other Irish motor clubs have made soundings to join the ranks of the ITC. That would certainly appease those who want an Irish Tarmac Championship within Ireland, however, it’s not that simple. The clubs showing interest are Cork (for the West Cork Rally), ALMC and Wexford, the latter is too close to the Cork “20” while the ALMC, once part of the Dunlop series and possibly best placed in terms of dates (mid-July) has yet to show its true potential.

Several years ago, the West Cork Rally had the opportunity of becoming a real contender but resistance from within stifled the move. There is no doubt that the Clonakilty event needs an injection to revive its now flagging reputation.

There are other issues that will also impinge on the future of the ITC — the Circuit of Ireland is a case in point. A few weeks ago, the World Rally Car brigade and the Modified crews ITC ran in a national category, there are anomalies also in relation to the exact term ‘international’.

At the beginning of the season, 50% bonus points were awarded to the Galway International, at the time, apparently, the TROA were unaware that the rally was being reduced to a one-day format. The Galway organisers were equally surprised as to gaining the bonus points.

The fact that the ITC series is self-policing is one of the key elements preventing any real change. For change to happen, the TROA must disband, undoubtedly that will require courage and conviction, if either isn’t present, the series will continue to struggle and may depend on what sign or direction it takes at the crossroads, let’s hope it goes in the right direction.

Meanwhile, the most challenging events in the British Rally Championship, the Pirelli International Rally, begins this evening with two stages in the infamous Kielder Forest.

Former double champion Keith Cronin is the top seed in an Asquith Motorsport-run Citroen DS3, with support from Irish exile Michael O’Brien. Last time out, behind the wheel of a David Greer Motorsport-run Citroen DS3, the Ballylickey driver finished a fraction of a second behind series leader Tom Cave (Citroen DS3) in a curtailed Bulldog International Rally of North Wales.

This evening, Cronin has the exciting Finnish star Jarkko Nikara as his team-mate.

In championship terms, Cave (32 points) leads Elfyn Evans and Osian Pryce (30), Northern Ireland’s Desi Henry (29), Peter Taylor (24), Mark Donnelly (20pts), Matthew Cathcart (19), Cronin (18) and Nikara (16).

In the British Manufacturers’ title race, Citroen UK lead on 71 points from Renault UK (61) and Ford (60). Based at the Carlisle Racecourse, the rally kicks off at 7pm. There are 10 stages tomorrow, with the event set to finish at 7pm.

Elsewhere, the WRC continues with Rally Argentina, where Dani Sordo replaces the injured Jari Matti Latvala in the Ford team.

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