Cork motorsport: Rally events still clouded by doubt in a post-Covid world

Cork motorsport: Rally events still clouded by doubt in a post-Covid world
Draperstown’s Marty McCormack and co-driver Barney Mitchell gave the Volkswagen Polo GTi a winning Irish rallying debut on last year’s CBtoolhire.com Cork 20 International Rally. Picture: Martin Walsh.

THE resumption of Irish rallying will hinge on two major factors — the permission from the community where the event is planned and the Covid-19 restrictions.

It is still far too early to predict if and when it will resume but a September date could be a possibility.

In the interim, Motorsport Ireland, as they have maintained all along, will follow Government guidelines.

Meanwhile, the Wexford Motor Club have stated they are preparing for their event on September 5/6 next whilst acknowledging that the guidelines may change before that date.

Their statement added, “If it’s possible for our event to run within the regulations we will have provisions in place to ensure the event can run.”

The Wexford event attracts a strong overseas contingent and that could have an effect, it remains to be seen what protocols will be implemented.

The current Covid-19 restrictions impact heavily on all sports especially in rallying right across the spectrum from competitors to organisers, marshals, officials and spectators.

Competitors, under the current guidelines, will be restricted to those from the same household. Organisers will have to implement paperless documentation and again, they also cannot work in pairs unless from the same household, stage start and finish situations regularly deploy teams in pairs.

Indeed, it is a similar situation for scrutineers with contact with the internal of cars being prohibited or at best cleansed thereafter.

Those marshalling are likely to be requested to wear PPE if they are needed to assist a competitor.

It’s easy to understand how difficult it will be to host a rally, however, were restrictions to be eased, it would be a changed environment. All of the foregoing is only possible when the organising club has the support of the community, some could be very welcoming, others possibly nervous.

Only time will tell and perhaps rallysprint type events at locations such as Mondello Park could well be the interim solution.

Indeed, Mondello personnel are set to engage with Motorsport Ireland to discuss the possibilities.

An aspect that is sensitive is whether or not everyone can afford to go rallying after being out of work for many weeks.

On another scale it could lead to Irish competitors heading abroad to compete in rallies like the popular Ypres Rally in Belgium that was due to take place from June 25-27 but has since been re-arranged for October 1-3.

Several Irish crews have participated on this event in the distant and recent past including Kanturk’s Liam O’Callaghan and Dromtarriffe’s James O’Brien, who contested the 1994 (Sierra Cosworth) and 1996 (Toyota Celica ST205) events, unfortunately, they failed to finish on each occasion but still enjoyed the experience.

A decade earlier (1984) Ballintemple’s Michael 'Bones' O’Connor competed in the Rally of the 1000 Lakes - now Rally Finland, a round of the WRC, that along with Rally GB, has been cancelled in recent weeks.

Although the Rallies Commission, who oversee Irish rallying in particular, has discussed how the sport can move forward, the Echo understands that an “Expert Group” has been set up to see how the sport and especially rallying can re-invent itself in terms of PPE and protocols.

The Motorsport Council met recently while a meeting with representatives of all MI affiliated clubs was scheduled for July 25. is highly likely to be brought forward to the first week in July. The Echo understands Motorsport Ireland are planning to use that consultation process with clubs to determine an overall picture of what events might take place towards the year end.

It may be that some clubs, who have an event scheduled for the latter part of the year may not be in a position to run while others that have events postponed could run on a vacated date.

The Cork 20 International Rally (September 26-27) and the Westlodge Hotel Fastnet Rally (October 25) are amongst those scheduled events. A statement from the governing body is unlikely prior to that meeting.

At the Ypres Rally in Belgium in 1994 were: Pat Cashman, Maurice Nagle (RIP), James O'Brien, Fergus Carroll, Liam O'Callaghan, Noreen O'Callaghan, Jerry Keyes and Brendan Dennehy. Front( left to right) Tadgh Cashman and Dan Cashman. Picture: Martin Walsh.
At the Ypres Rally in Belgium in 1994 were: Pat Cashman, Maurice Nagle (RIP), James O'Brien, Fergus Carroll, Liam O'Callaghan, Noreen O'Callaghan, Jerry Keyes and Brendan Dennehy. Front( left to right) Tadgh Cashman and Dan Cashman. Picture: Martin Walsh.

Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the Dublin based motor club, ALMC, has shown almost 58% of people would not be willing to call to residents to carry out PR work in advance of a rally.

The poll got the views of some 300 people across all sectors of the sport including marshals, officials, competitors, service crews, spectators and service providers. As to whether the sport should resume this year 30% were against a resumption while Covid-19 social distancing was in place, 42% want a restriction on events and number of competitors while the rest preferred to wait until 2021 when there might be a vaccine in place.

Interestingly, on the preferred type of event, some 37% voted for a single-stage rally, 33% for a mini stage rally and 30% for a multi-stage event.

Rallysprints and endurance trials also got a favourable response. The majority of those polled were in favour of working in or visiting a rally office environment.

Just over half (of those polled) stated they can afford to go rallying this year while 36% preferred to wait until next year when the economy has improved.

Almost 85% would not spectate or officiate without social distancing if others were not adhering to government rules. Queried on whether they believe Motorsport Ireland will have sufficient protocols in place to enable them to attend or compete in motorsport events safely, 53% votes yes.

No other club or organisation has undertaken a similar survey.

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