by Martin Walsh IRELAND is confident of securing additional funding for its "Young Driver of the Year" awards.

Currently, the Racing and Rally awards have almost 100,000 in funding, now the governing body are seeking extra financial assistance during 2004 with a view to enhancing these schemes by a further 50,000.

There is no doubt that the governing body deserve great credit for the implementation of the awards, no doubt also that the schemes need to be tweaked annually to maintain a high profile within and outside the sport.

Now in its fourth year, one of the disadvantages of the earlier awards was the lack of a skills test. This year, it was incorporated in the motor racing section while MSI have indicated that it is likely to be an intrinsic part of the rally award next year. It is worth noting that the lack of such tests were previously highlighted by the media.

The interview panel for the recent schemes featured at least three personnel that were on the interview panel for the previous year.

Perhaps this needs to be addressed, particularly if candidates have been selected for the second time. Interestingly, both winners from the recent awards ceremony (Eoin Murray Racing and Dessie Keenan Rallying) were on last year's short list. A new panel of interviewers would be more transparent and fairer to all concerned.

The possibility of monthly nominations for the Coleman award along with an end of season wild card selection should be explored to increase the profile.

Standardisation of both schemes also has its merits.

Meanwhile, one of this year's finalists in the "Billy Coleman Award Scheme" Graham Quinn will contest the 2004 Fiat Stilo Cup that will run in conjunction with the British Rally Championship.

Graham was impressed with the car in a test on a stage used in this year's San Remo Rally in Italy. The 1800cc, 187bhp Stilo will be prepared by N-Technology Fiat's Motorsport arm.

Graham has already secured backing from Coffee Perfections and Butler Contractors. The winner of the 2004 Fiat Stilo Cup will be rewarded with a drive in a Super 1600 Fiat Punto in the 2005 BRC.

Cork driver, John Foley has won this year's "Young Driver Safety Award" and will receive £7,500 Stg. from the Fisher Foundation. As a result, he will attend the John Haugland Winter Rally School in Norway. This is the second year of the Fisher Foundation Awards and according to one of the Trustees, Ivan Fisher, selecting the winner was a difficult task, "The response for the award both in quantity and quality was excellent, we were very impressed with John's sponsorship and PR package and above all his high level of motivation for the coming season and beyond, we have no doubt he will be a great ambassador for The Fisher Foundation and Irish Motorsport".

In recent times, several Irish drivers have attended the John Haughland Winter Rally School in Geilo, some 150 miles north of Oslo. The course also features classroom tuition that is designed to raise the driver's safety awareness and develop safe driving skills.

Foley commented, "To be associated with the Fisher Foundation and to be selected as the winner from a high standard of young drivers is a perfect end to a great season. I hope that the prize will broaden my driving skills and help me progress safely in the sport. I would like to thank the Fisher Foundation, ASA Marketing Group and everybody that helped me during the year especially my navigator Jonathan Waterman."

Subaru test driver, Pasi Hagstrom headlines the Titanic World Rallysprint in Belfast that has three timed runs tomorow and Sunday. He faces some of the top names in Irish rallying like Kenny McKinstry, Derek McGarrity, David Greer, Peadar Hurson, Denis Biggerstaff, Kevin Lynch, Maurice Gass, Robbie McGurk and Nigel Hickland. The timed runs are scheduled for 12. 30; 2. 00 and 3. 30.

An Open Forum for the 2004 National Forest Rally Championship will be held in Kearney's Hotel Cashel Co. Tipperary on Sunday at 2.00 p.m. The championship organisers have issued an open invitation to all competitors, club members, marshals and newcomers.

The Evening Echo Motocross Championship that concluded last weekend resulted in wins for Brian O'Connell (Grade A); Garry O'Sullivan (Grade B) and Tom Barry (Grade C). O'Connell from Blarney riding a Honda held off the challenge of Dripsey's, David Galvin (Yamaha) by 37 points. Waterford's, O'Sullivan (Honda) and Barry (Honda) had 81 and 33 point wins respectively.

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