West Cork Rally unlikely to be held in 2020 as Motorsport Ireland struggles to come up with a revamped programme

West Cork Rally unlikely to be held in 2020 as Motorsport Ireland struggles to come up with a revamped programme
Armagh's Andrew Nesbitt and his Dromtarriffe co-driver James O'Brien (Subaru WRC) were the 2000 and 2002 Irish Tarmac Rally champions, the 2001 ITRC wasn't held due to the Foot and Mouth crisis. Picture: Martin Walsh.

THERE is a strong possibility that this year’s Irish Tarmac Rally Championship may not be completed after last week’s postponement of the Joule Donegal International Rally that was scheduled for June 19-21.

The Letterkenny-based event that attracts some 60,000 spectators annually is one of the major sporting events in the north-west with an estimated value of €25 million to the local economy.

The last time that the series didn’t take place was in 2001 when rallying was one of the principal sports affected by the Foot and Mouth crisis.

It’s the one sport that relies heavily on the goodwill of local residents and in particular the farming community and it’s no surprise that the solid relationships built up between the organising clubs and residents along the route play a major part in such partnerships.

Waterford's Craig Breen and Killarmey's Paul Nagle are the reigning Irish Tarmac Rally champions. The Joule Donegal International Raly due to take place in June has been postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Martin Walsh.
Waterford's Craig Breen and Killarmey's Paul Nagle are the reigning Irish Tarmac Rally champions. The Joule Donegal International Raly due to take place in June has been postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Martin Walsh.

Chairman of the TROA, Blarney’s Colman Hegarty said, “It’s difficult to say (if there will be a championship), I think we need four events to have a viable championship.

Nobody knows when sport will return and given the current situation (coronavirus) it’s insignificant at this point in time. We use roads in the country and we are very respectful of that situation and we certainly don’t want to impose any further restrictions on those people at this time. We have to be mindful of the people and the countryside.”

This year’s ITRC got off to a rocky start in Galway and only after the organising club secured financial help from outside sources along with that of the governing body Motorsport Ireland. What was once a thriving three-day international rally was held over a single day. Meanwhile, the Tarmac Rally Organisers Association (TROA) had insisted that the 2021 event would revert to a two-day event otherwise championship status would be withdrawn.

This year’s event on February 2 concluded in dramatic circumstances after Monaghan’s Sam Moffett (Hyundai i20 R5) was excluded from second place following his failure to attend post-event scrutiny. However, it was well over a month before the appeal decision was announced with Moffett (not surprisingly) being reinstated to second place. The members of the tribunal decided that there were serious errors and inconsistencies in the organisation of post-event scrutiny.

The fact that the announcement was close to the date of the West Cork Rally - what was scheduled to be the second round - was far from ideal and better structures need to be implemented for the future.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic brought about the postponement of the Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally, the Wastewater Solutions Circuit of Ireland, the Cartell.ie Rally of the Lakes and most recently the Joule Donegal International Rally. The remaining ITRC events are the Ulster Rally (August 21/22) and the CBtoolhire.com Cork '20' International Rally (September 26/27).

In a statement issued on April 7, president of Motorsport Ireland John Naylor said, “Motorsport Ireland has respected government guidelines regarding restrictions from the outset. We will continue to do so for the greater good of the country while the current restriction on events up to June 1 will be continually reviewed. 

"However, this will come to an end and motorsport will be back. When that time comes, I am 100% confident that our clubs and competitors will be ready, willing and able to step up to the challenge.”

Within 24 hours, the Donegal Motor Club issued a separate statement announcing the postponement of the Joule Donegal International Rally due to the current Coronavirus pandemic. Clerk of the course, Eamonn McGee said, “Foremost in our minds is the health and safety of the general public including residents along the routes, competitors, marshals and the hundreds of workers, who help us stage the event.”

While events like Killarney and Donegal haven’t incurred any major pre-event costs, it was a much different scenario for the Cork Motor Club, who have probably lost in excess of €25,000. To their credit, it was the CMC, along with the Clonakilty Fundraising Committee and not Motorsport Ireland made the difficult decision to postpone their event.

While the governing body hope that the events that were postponed will somehow be rearranged before the year-end, the Echo understands that any calendar revamp will not feature the West Cork Rally. Probably more than any other club, the Cork MC organisers enjoy a superb relationship with the Clonakilty community and their plans will now focus on 2021.

In any case, it may be very difficult to rearrange the postponed events as the motorsport calendar is hugely congested and very much so in the latter part of the season and in particular in counties Cork and Kerry. In addition, competitors may not have the finances to participate in rallies while medical personnel will also need a break.

Just prior to the Covid-19 situation there was unrest within the sport over several issues, maybe now is the time to try and bring harmony.

Just recently, the Motorsport Council announced that a new body that will be called the “Clubs and Commissions Group” is to replace the Competitions Advisory Committee. Previously, clubs appointed their own delegates, however, the MSC now stipulate that the delegates to the new group must hold the position of either club chairman, vice chair, secretary or treasurer.

It appears that clubs are unhappy with the situation, ironically, it comes after a meeting of MI officials with club chairpersons - if nothing else this underlines the lack of communication and this needs to be addressed. Once upon a time, albeit now distant, the CAC was an important conduit between the clubs and the governing body, so too was the former Rallies Committee (now the Rallies Commission) but times seemed to have changed.

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