Funding hike and expansion of awards boost for motorsport

THE increase in funding and the expansion of both the Young Racing and Young Rally Driver of the Year Awards is good news for motorsport.

Speaking at the Alfa Romeo Award for Excellence in Irish Motorsport earlier this week, Cecil Sparks, chairman of the Motorsport Commission, said: "We must be doing something right" a thinly veiled comment on recent media criticisms of the awards.

This is a new era in motorsport as it is unusual for an official of the governing body to acknowledge comments by the media. No one has ever doubted that both schemes are very positive aspects of Irish motorsport and the support of the Sports Council is to be commended. Recent criticisms surrounded the selection process for both awards.

Since their inception, the Irish Examiner has constantly highlighted the inadequacies of the system deployed. Now, however, for the Racing Driver award, Motorsport Ireland are bringing on board extra professional expertise. In addition, the age limit has been raised from 21 to 23, another positive move.

Mr Sparks said this was possible due to new computer software installed at Motorsport Ireland's headquarters. Surely, this cannot be the real reason. More importantly, it is imperative that changes are made by committee, executive or otherwise, rather than individuals. A skills test is now also likely in both schemes as suggested in this newspaper for quite some time.

Funding for both awards is, according to Mr Sparks, now over €90,000. The original grant from the Sport Council was €77,250 with clubs running stage rallies contributing some €15,000 and sponsorship for the racing award at a similar amount. This week's extra financial package is worth €25,000 the governing body matching the Sport Council's extra contribution.

Apparently, not all the grant from the Council is spent on the awards, prior to last week, it was probably somewhere in the region of €35,000 with clubs and sponsor bringing the figure to €64,000. While providing valuable funding for our young talent, Motorsport Ireland must now also look at ways of providing drivers like Michael Keohane with an equally valuable support package.

Why aren't racing clubs contributing to the scheme? Perhaps it is also time for MSI to separate the International Driver of the Year Award into two categories rallying and racing, with the latter receiving the Sexton Trophy.

The Germaines Hotel sponsored Restricted Single Stage Rally, organised by the Garda Motor Club, has Terence Taggart (Ford Escort), as top seed. A plethora of Escorts form the main challenge with the likes of John Nolan, Trevor Culbert and Liam Wall. Others on the entry include Eamonn Murphy, Pádraig Price, Brendan Brosnan, John Rooney, Gerard McGivney and Tomas O'Rourke (Astra). Gareth MacHale (Peugeot 206) is also competing.

The reconnaissance run starts at 9.30am with the first timed run at 11.00am. The 2002 Senator Engineering Munster Navigation Trial Championship concludes over the weekend with the Reggie Tilson Night Navigation Trial that will be based at Shanagarry Community Centre in East Cork. Donal Healy/Peter Keohane and Pete Willoughby/Greg Shinnors are in contention for overall honours.

In the Beginners class the best supported class all season Donal and James Mullins head the contestants entering the final round. The "Reggie" is also a counting round of the 2002/2003 National Championship and 2002/2003 Munster Championship. The MEC Sporting Trial near Blessington starts at 11.30 tomorrow.

Mitsubishi have withdrawn from the 2003 World Rally Championship although they are likely to contest selected rounds.

The Irish Motorsport annual, edited by Michael O'Carroll, is currently on sale, and Séamus Counihan's 2003 calendar is also available through his website, www.crspics.com.

One of the most popular marshals in motorsport, Joe Rochford, was laid to rest last Tuesday in Waterford. A member of the Carrick-on-Suir Motor Club, he displayed a common sense approach to marshalling that ensured he always controlled whatever junction he manned without any fuss. May he rest in peace.

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