Problems aplenty for Irish rally organisers

CONCERNS are growing about the future of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.

Tarmac Rally Organisers Association (TROA) met on Sunday to discuss the series that has been haemorrhaging for several years, yet few within the TROA were willing to acknowledge its declining state — until now.

One of the underlying problems is that the series is self-policed, that in itself, probably contributed most to its current decline. Currently, the TROA consists of representatives from each of its four home events; Galway, Killarney, Donegal and Cork, along with the Circuit of Ireland, the Ulster Rally, the Jim Clark and the Rally Isle of Man.

Originally, the Jim Clark was part of the current series but the TROA back tracked – few if any Irish crews wanted to travel outside of the country.

It may not be the only decision the TROA will reverse. A few years ago, they decided that World Rally Cars (WRCs) would not be able to score points from 2012 onwards, at the same time, a bonus points system for Group N cars was also introduced. The irony of that ban wasn’t lost on the WRC brigade when asked to register for the current campaign.

Fundamentally, the drivers and co-drivers are the customers of the TROA, yet, dialogue between the two groups, while being cordial, could never be described as being very constructive. Without doubt, the current financial climate is a major contributory factor, however, other Irish rallies are not affected to the same extent.

The claim that TROA has reacted too late is valid. In the past, drivers like Austin MacHale, who won the series five times, have been critical of the calendar of events. Events outside of Ireland, while nothing wrong from an organisational background, were far too expensive.

The overlap of the Irish Tarmac Championship with the British Rally Championship is another problem. Some Irish drivers claim that from an ITC perspective, they don’t get equal recognition from the rally organisers.

There was a somewhat farcical situation in last year’s Ulster Rally – that included the WRC contingent while Group N crews were incorporated in a separate event – Rally Northern Ireland, albeit still on the same stages.

It’s not wholly inconceivable that the TROA may have to disband if the ITC is to rise from its current predicament. Opinion suggests that it is time for a new Irish Tarmac series that could introduce one or perhaps two new events, not necessarily two day events, but within Ireland.

What is needed is for the clubs to be willing to adapt. The recent Circuit of Ireland dropped its international status and ran under a national permit, the exercise although not popular in some quarters, saved a substantial amount of money.

There is a suggestion that should other clubs follow suit, then the funding from Fáilte Ireland could be in jeopardy. Whether an event is run under an international or national permit should not be a factor in televising events from a tourism angle.

The lack of a sponsor is indicative of the present situation for the TROA. Individual clubs need to be far more pro-active in involving all the local councils and hotel groups in offering competitors and spectators the best possible deals.

The efforts of Bobby Willis in trying to revive the Circuit of Ireland and the initiative of the Cork 20 Rally organisers have to be noted but the series as a whole needs attention.

The Tour de Corse, the third round of the Intercontinental Rally Championship continues today. The MINI John Cooper Works WRC, with Dani Sordo at the wheel, will make its British debut at the weekend at the Cornbury Park Rally Show.

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