Motorsport: Donegal dispute leaves Irish Tarmac Rally Championship future uncertain

In a week where the FIA announced changes to the World Rally Championship for 2017, the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship Organisers (TROA) were hit with a backlash to their proposed rule changes for 2016 — a ban on the current World Rally Cars from winning the series — with the announcement that the Donegal International Rally was withdrawing from the series.

The 2017 breed of WR cars will have new aerodynamic package complete with a bigger rear wing and an increase in engine power to 380bhp courtesy of an increase in the turbo restrictor size to 36mm.

The cars will be bigger and wider along with electronically controlled centre differentials, yet they will be 25kg lighter.

FIA chiefs are keen to stress that the changes “are evolutionary rather than revolutionary.”

It has three main objectives — make the car spectacular, be mindful of costs, and maintain if not increase safety.

Does world rallying really need extra power which brings an increase in speed? It is difficult to see how it will make the sport safer, even though it will probably make it more spectacular. Ironically, it’s not that long since Group B cars were banned: Is it a case of the wheel turning almost full circle?

Meanwhile, the fallout from TROA proposals that will exclude WR cars from winning the series but not the events will, according to the Donegal Motor Club, have “detrimental implications”.

Essentially, outright championship victory in next year’s series will be confined to R5 and S2000 cars.

The Donegal club has as its members the top three drivers in the country — Garry Jennings, the 2013 Tarmac champion; Declan Boyle, 2014 Tarmac and national champion and Donagh Kelly, the newly crowned Triton Showers National champion.

A statement noted: “Donegal Motor Club has unanimously decided to withdraw the Joule Donegal International Rally 2016 from this Championship as it feels strongly this system would not benefit or enhance our event in this current form. Donegal Motor Club has obligations to represent its members and competitors across the island of Ireland and the UK.”

Will the club suffer through their stance? Nobody knows or can even predict just how many R5 cars will line up in Galway in February next. Will they (R5/S2000 competitors) in turn then decide to boycott Donegal irrespective of status? The Tarmac series always had the best cars — in the MacHale/Fisher era the cars had previously graced the top flight of the WRC. Yes, change was needed, but now the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship may be too close to the new British Rally Championship.

Meanwhile, Peugeot Academy driver Craig Breen tackles the auto24 Rally Estonia this weekend as he tries to increase his lead in the European Rally Championship. After five rounds, he is 21 points ahead of Polish driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz (Ford Fiesta R5).

In the last round in Ypres, the Waterford ace lost a glorious opportunity to stretch his championship lead when he retired from the event. There is a short stage in Tartu City this evening ahead of tomorrow’s nine stages and six on Sunday.

Breen said: “We go to Estonia with the same goal as we went to Ypres, and that is to extend our championship lead by winning.”

On the home front, Cashel ace Pat O’Connell (Mitsubishi) bids for a third consecutive victory on tomorrow’s Kerry Rallysprint at the Tralee Racecourse. The 2.3km course is a mixture of tarmac and gravel and O’Connell’s experience on the latter surface will be key to his bid.

The Escort pairing of Limerick’s Ed O’Callaghan and Tipperary’s Liam Ryan, former Irish forest champion Owen Murphy (Subaru), Mike Quinn (Mitsubishi) and Mike O’Connor Jr (Subaru) are some of the principal contenders. The first of the four timed runs starts at 11.30am.

Cork racing ace Matt Griffin competes in rounds five and six of the Asia GT series at the Fuji Speedway in Japan where he will team up with Richie Wee in the Clearwater Racing Ferrari.

The weekend’s Adelaide Masters Series at Mondello Park has three rounds on the National track. In the Superbike races Waterford’s Brian McCormack will be eager to end the dominance of Dubliner Derek Sheils.

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