Cork motorsport: Only two rally events on Leeside have yet to be cancelled 

Cork motorsport: Only two rally events on Leeside have yet to be cancelled 
Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin (Citroen DS3R5) and his Killarney co-driver Mikie Galvin won the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship in 2016. Cronin was the first Cork driver to win the Tarmac series since Billy Coleman won in 1984. Picture: Martin Walsh.

HOW much of this year’s Irish motorsport calendar can actually be implemented is as much a guessing game as everything else.

With still so much uncertainty it’s difficult even to select a date to actually begin to implement the process that is somewhat complex. Unlike some other sports, especially those within stadia environments, rallying by its very nature is octopus like with the stages (competitive rally route) taking in areas that are often thirty or even more kilometres from the rally base.

Over the last few weeks, announcements, in the light of Covid-19, from various motorsport platforms brought some degree of certainty, but those same announcements only confirmed what most people had expected.

The organisers of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship (the TROA) were first out of the traps in terms of a major Irish series when they announced that their 2020 series was not going ahead. It came with a proviso insofar as the cancellation of the series didn’t necessarily mean the cancellation of the individual events that constitute the seven round series.

The governing body of Irish motorsport, Motorsport Ireland made an announcement on May 19 when they advised: “Due to the current situation regarding Covid-19, both the National Stages Rally Championship and the National Forestry Rally Championship are cancelled for 2020.”

Interestingly, the statement added: “This decision has been taken as a result of several rounds of both championships being cancelled due to the restrictions which we now live under. Even though some events may run later this year, no event will hold National Championship status for 2020.”

Ovens driver Owen Murphy (left) is a former double Irish Forest Rally champion - 2011 and 2014 and Carrigaline's Brian O'Mahony (right) won the Dunlop National Rally Championship in 2012. Pictures: Martin Walsh
Ovens driver Owen Murphy (left) is a former double Irish Forest Rally champion - 2011 and 2014 and Carrigaline's Brian O'Mahony (right) won the Dunlop National Rally Championship in 2012. Pictures: Martin Walsh

The Dublin-based governing body acknowledged both championship sub-commissions and the Rally Commission along with paying tribute to the respective title sponsors Triton Showers and Valvoline and the many other associate sponsors of the forest series.

Regional rally championships have also followed with announcements, including the Top Part West Coast series and the PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 championship.

The Motorsport Ireland reasoning for cancelling the Triton and Valvoline campaigns was, they claimed,“as a result of several rounds of both championships being cancelled due to the restrictions”.

Yet, prior to their announcement the governing body were at pains advising clubs only to postpone events but not to cancel.

The Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally was the first event to fall due to the pandemic. Indeed, both the organising Cork Motor Club and the local team in Clonakilty that have set the bar in terms of synergies between the organising club and the community, took the decision within a very short time of Leo Varadkar’s announcement. 

That decision proved correct, yet the Cork club were put under pressure to go ahead. But, they stood firm and within another very short space of time, decided that the event will not go ahead in 2020 even if a suitable date and conditions allows it to happen.

Meanwhile, organisers of the Valvoline series issued their own statement just after the announcement from Motorsport Ireland confirming the cancellation of the 2020 campaign. It was a similar message to that of their governing body but it also advised competitors that their registration fees will be refunded. 

It seems the championship sub-commission decision for this move did not go down well with the authorities, even though the refund decision was taken at a meeting well in advance of their statement.

While The Echo can confirm that the Clare Rally and the Galway Summer Rally have both been cancelled, an announcement is being delayed.

Yes, we have to hope events will go ahead at some time in the future, but only when it is safe to do so. Rallying depends on community much more than any other sport. The closing of roads is key as are the relationships the various clubs hold with the locality and especially the farming community, who also assist in the provision of bales for chicanes. To put that relationship at risk in the short term could have devastating effects for the sport.

While the Imokilly Rally (July 19) has also been cancelled, it is too early to determine what will happen in terms of the two remaining County Cork events, the CBtoolhire.com Cork 20 (September 26/27) and the Westlodge Hotel Fastnet Rally (October 25).

Meanwhile, James Coleman, clerk of the course of the Raven’s Rock Rally (Waterford) that was postponed from its date in late June is hopeful of organising some type of event before the year end. He speculated it could be a single venue event possibly in Mondello Park or even a forest stage. Coleman also promoted the idea of paperless documentation and having a family member as co-driver to overcome Covid-19 restrictions.

Motorsport here will be following how other countries are planning a return of the sport. The Ypres Rally in Belgium, that was due to take place in a few weeks time, has a new date of October 1-3. The European Rally Championship hope to kick-start their season with Rally Italy but there is uncertainty when the World Rally Championship will resume.

So far, only three of the 13 rounds have taken place and there is a possibility the rounds in New Zealand and Japan could be canned, placing more of an emphasis on European rounds. Here, it may be July before we learn the fate of Irish rallying.

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