Cork motorsport: Sponsorship remains vital to keep rallying on track

Cork motorsport: Sponsorship remains vital to keep rallying on track
The finish ramp at the 1993 Fitzpatrick's Hotel Cork 20 International Rally won by Donegal's James Cullen and the late Ellen Morgan in a Group N Escort Cosworth (pictured centre). Kanturk's Liam O'Callaghan (third from left) and his Dromtarriffe co-driver James O'Brien (second left) in a Sierra Cosworth were second with Down's Peadar Hurson (Metro 6R4) and co-driver Ian Porter (pictured right) finishing third. Picture: Martin Walsh.

SPONSORSHIP is now an integral part of practically every sport, not just in terms of events but also of its star names and stadia.

Through time, sponsorship has evolved and while it was once the norm to accept a generous financial contribution for little, if any return, it is now all about synergy.

Motorsport and particularly rallying is no different but changes of attitude and behaviour has brought a different dimension.

In the 1970s, the Circuit of Ireland — at the time the most popular and famous event in Irish rallying, was backed by Benson and Hedges.

About a decade later, Rothmans added their brand as the title sponsor while also supporting top drivers like Billy Coleman. In the 80s rally fans flocked to Killarney to watch the Carling Rally of the Lakes, another brand, Kaliber sponsored the exploits of Kenny McKinstry.

Long after the termination of sponsorships, the association remains, even now, there are many that continue to associate the AA with the Circuit of Ireland. Certain brands and events worked and indeed continue to work well together, however, in recent years, it is more difficult to secure title sponsors for the main rally championships.

The Irish Tarmac Championship is currently without an overall backer and relies on several secondary sponsors for financial support. Tudor Photographic was the first overall sponsor in 1979. Through the last 40 years Henley Hanley, STP, Hewlett Packard, Dunlop, Toshiba Equium, Toshiba, Pirelli, Global Group, Citroen and Clonakilty Blackpudding backed the series that now includes two Cork events, the Cork 20 and the West Cork.

Interestingly, the Irish National Rally Championship once had AngloIrish Bancorp as its title sponsor for a few seasons. Corás (a furniture manufacturing company in Ardee) followed along with well-known Kilkenny company Red Mills — who crossed many sporting divides as it also underpinned horse racing and greyhound racing as well as supporting its family rally drivers Bill and Joe Connolly. 

Tyre giant Dunlop had several years at the helm before current sponsor Triton Showers was secured as a replacement.

The third major championship in the country, the Irish Forestry Championship is now in its 10th season under the Valvoline banner. Its predecessors included Petro Systems, KBB Doors, McCauley Trailers, Coillte and Barum Tyres.

Rally organisers also depend so much on sponsorship given that running costs can be in excess of €100,000 in many cases. Club budgets vary in that regard and the status of the event - international, national or non-national often dictate financial costs. The three Cork rallies have been relatively fortunate with title sponsors.

One of the oldest rallies in Europe, the Cork 20 has been running since 1912. In those early days it was mainly a combination of navigation and test trials. 

From 1966 until 1976 it formed part of the national rally championship before it gained International status in 1977. In 1967, Carlsberg was its title sponsor, there was no event the following year due to the Foot and Mouth crisis.

The first of two events in 1969 was sponsored by tyre company Fit Kilkenny Remoulds, whose signature tune was “Fit Kilkenny Remoulds rule the road.” Haltone and B+I Ferries followed as rally headquarters like Jury’s Hotel, Fitzpatrick’s Silver Springs, Rochestown Park and the Radisson Blu all had tenures as title sponsors. 

So too did Murphy Construction, who returned to sponsor jointly with Weathermaster, Orchard Motorsport, Acesigns Signmakers and current backer CB Toolhire.com. It In 1977 the first West Cork Rally had support from the Festival of West Cork.

Indeed it was the vision of that committee that has led to the event becoming one of the most popular events, not just in Ireland, but also Great Britain. Their plan was to have an event in Clonakilty that would promote the West Cork town. Now, some 40 years later the event is worth around €4 to the local economy.

The arrival of Zanussi as sponsor in 1981was a major achievement and the association continued for six years profiling the manufacturer’s logo with a bold yellow and black masthead on the rally programme. While there were a few years without a title sponsor, support from oil giant Mobil 1 was next on the scene. 

Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin (right) and his Killarney co-driver Mikie Galvin clinched the 2016 Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship with their fourth-place finish on the Acesigns Cork 20 International Rally. Picture: Martin Walsh.
Ballylickey’s Keith Cronin (right) and his Killarney co-driver Mikie Galvin clinched the 2016 Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship with their fourth-place finish on the Acesigns Cork 20 International Rally. Picture: Martin Walsh.

It is worth noting in the years that the rally had no sponsor, the work of the local fundraising committee with support of the local traders, filled the financial void.

In 1992, new ground was broken when local company Keohane Readymix put its shoulder to the wheel for a three-year term. Whilst already involved in its support of many local drivers and indeed other sports across West Cork, the vision of the late Paddy Keohane helped elevate the rally to another platform.

Tyre manufacturer Barum lent its support in 1995 but Keohane Readymix was back on-board in 1996 and continued until 2000. With no rally in 2001, another local company, Irishmobiles.com sponsored the rally in 2002 before the Quality Hotels started their sponsorship that continues to this day, albeit in the guise of the renamed Clonakilty Park Hotel since last year.

Meanwhile, the Fastnet Rally has enjoyed support from its headquarters and a few individual companies. The inaugural event in Schull in 1982 was sponsored by the Fastnet Inn.

A year later Lissard House in Skibbereen was both headquarters and sponsor. National Aluminium (manufacturers of windows and doors) came onboard in 1984 and while the rally remained in Skibbereen, Sord (Computers) were the title sponsor in 1985 and 1986. There was no rally in 1987.

A glorious chapter for the rally began in 1988 when the event relocated to the village of Glandore and was based at the Marine Hotel, who were also the overall sponsor. The association along with the wonderful support of the O’Brien family continued until 2005 when the hotel closed for redevelopment.

In 2006 it returned to the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen for its headquarters and sponsorship. In a surprise move in 2011, the club made the switch to Bantry (its current destination) with support from its new headquarters at the Westlodge Hotel and also the Bantry Development and Tourist Association.

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