So that is why I don’t attend any events that month! In fact there weren’t any stage rallies in Northern Ireland during February this year, so I didn’t miss anything.
March marks the start of the MSA Northern Ireland Rally Championship with the Bishopscourt Stages on the 10th. There will be seven rounds of this great underrated series, and as usual the events are spread over different surfaces. Each rally takes place on a Saturday.
While the first round is at a race circuit, the next three will be held on closed road tarmac. The Tour of the Sperrins May 12th, the Mourne Rally June 9th and the Down Rally on July 21st. Then in September we have the loose surface Lakeland Stages (1st) and the Bushwacker (22nd). Finally we have the Tyrone Stages Rally which will run on October 20th but it is not certain if it will run on tarmac or loose. In case any of these rallies don’t run, the Glens of Antrim Rally will act as a reserve event on November 3rd.
With regard to the entry lists, it will be interesting to see who will commit to a full season of the Championship. Last year Jonny Greer won in his Citroen DS3 R5 but apparently he is unsure if he will defend his title. Let’s hope someone will challenge the likes of Derek McGarrity who intends to use a Subaru WRC this year. No good if someone dominates in a 2 litre World Car and the lesser 1.6 WRC’s or R5’s can’t compete with them! The mixed surface Northern Ireland Championship is unique and could be a cracking series IF we get interesting entries. Watch this space!
As I suspected the popular Lurgan Park Rally will not take place again this year. North Armagh Motor Club have announced that due to a lack of sponsor and the rising safety costs incurred in setting up the public park event, they are not able to run the July 7th spectacular. Instead they will hold a clubman rally in Loughgall Country Park.
I am sorry to hear this news as we have marshalled in Lurgan Park since 1981. The event attracted top Rally drivers over 37 years. Limited to 50 invited drivers and co-drivers, the short mixed-surface spectator orientated stage rally usually took place in good summer weather and at its height attracted as many as 10,000 spectators.
Known as the Burmah Rally for the first 16 years, winners included Bertie Fisher who won the first event in 1980 and then again in 81. My old school pal John Lyons won in 1982 and then Kenny McKinstry had his first win in 83. Kenny of course went on to become the “King of the Park” with an amazing 11 victories.
Welshman and British Champion Gwyndaf Evans won in the Park four times, first in 1989 with a special race- engined Sierra Cosworth. In 1997 he had a huge battle with Patrick Snijers in a pair of identical Escort WRC’s. The two Ford drivers finished on equal times but Evans won because he had five fastest stage times. Snijers returned the following year to win in a similar car. Gwyndaf was back to win in 1999 during the SEAT sponsorship years. The Spanish manufacturers brought over their latest Córdoba WRC and despite a spirited drive from second place Snijers Escort, Evans won. He was back to dominate in 2001 with a similar Córdoba.
Tony Pond won in 1991 driving a Metro 6R4, Mikael Sundstrom and Richard Young had a memorable win in 1986 with the superb Peugeot 205 T16. Kevin Lynch won five years in a row between 2004 and 2008, four in a Subaru and one in a Focus. Kris Meeke had a start to finish win in 2012 driving a MINI WRC.
The final four years from 2013-2016 saw Garry Jennings dominate the Lurgan Park Rally in his Subaru Impreza WRC. By then the event had lost its way somewhat and although we still enjoyed marshalling, it was beginning to become a bit boring. Some very good memories though and the Rally will be missed from the calendar, but such is progress and things move on. RIP the Lurgan Park Rally.
Round one of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship. Organised by Ballynahinch and District Motor Club this event takes place at Bishopscourt Racing Circuit in Co.Down. The six stages are mostly smooth surface tarmac or concrete based. We are due to help marshalling and possibly covering radio points. Sign-on is usually 8am. McGrady Insurance will once again sponsor the Championship.
Our annual training day will be held at Kirkistown Racing Circuit in Co.Down. Sing-on by 9.15am. Jim Whitaker will be the MSA training instructor on the day. As I always say you learn something new every time. Keep up to date with the latest developments in training and get your cards signed if you need to.
Based in Templepatrick at the Dunadry Inn this second round of the Irish Tarmac Championship will feature 12 closed-road stages in Co.Antrim. With a central service park in Ballyclare the tarmac rally will consist of two events. Friday competitors will be joined on Saturday by a separate one-day event. We have been asked to provide timekeepers, radio personnel, marshals and rescue cover.
On Saturday morning at Autosport International we will be launching a new online training and accreditation scheme for Rally marshals, as part of the RallyFuture project to further enhance safety on UK stage rallies.
Hopefully you will already have been aware of the project through MSA publications or Regional Association meetings. However we felt it was important to write to you in advance of the launch, to ensure you are aware before we make the wider public announcement.
This new scheme has been several months in the making. Its purpose is to ensure that all Rally marshals have a common understanding of their roles and responsibilities, the management of spectators and how to handle an incident.
The training should take no longer than 45 minutes, including the assessments. It is important to note that the online training is a supplement to, and not a replacement for, the high quality face-to-face training sessions that are currently being delivered across the UK.
This year, the online training and accreditation is only compulsory for newly registering marshals. However please note that those marshals who are currently registered with the MSA will need to complete the online training before being issued with their 2017 Registration card. You will only need to complete this course once in your marshalling career.
There will be a buddy system for unregistered marshals, to help ensure we don’t lose opportunities to recruit new volunteers – further details will be released in due course.
More details will be revealed following the launch on Saturday. In the meantime, may we thank you for everything you do for our sport, which would not exist without you. Best wishes for the coming season.