00:00 Saturday 04 June 2011  Written by MARTIN WALSH

Fastnet Rally to Bantry

ONE of the most popular sporting events in West Cork, the Fastnet Rally, which brings the curtain down on the Dunlop National Rally Championship, is on the move.

This year's rally will be based in Bantry and sponsored by the Westlodge Hotel, strengthened by a major involvement with the Bantry Business Association.

Taking place on the October bank holiday weekend, the rally itself will take place over eight special stages in the vicinity of the host town on Sunday, October 30th.

In a move that will surprise rally fans, and indeed many others, the switch to Bantry follows recent intensive discussions involving the event organisers, the Skibbereen and District Car Club, with the Bantry Business Association and local hotel representatives.

It is a major coup for the Westlodge Hotel to secure rally headquarters. In existence since 1970, it currently employs 45 full-time and a similar number of part time staff.

With some 90 bedrooms along with ten self-catering cottages and a full health and leisure centre, it is seen as the ideal base for the rally with its relatively new conference and banqueting facility, that overlooks Bantry Bay, set to host the rally prizegiving.

Eileen O'Shea, general manager of the Westlodge Hotel, commented: 'We are really looking forward to welcoming the Fastnet Rally which will be a great end of season boost for the area. It will highlight the beautiful scenic area of the entire region.

'The bank holiday weekend is the ideal end of year event for the rally and it is always the last winter break for people before the long winter season.

She added: 'During these challenging times, it is great to have such a high-profile event taking place at the hotel and this year in particular with the emphasis on stay-home vacations (staycations) being promoted nationally.' The Fastnet Rally is the tenth and final round of the series along with being a counting round of the Southern 4

Rally Championship and the TMC Windows Skibbereen Club Championship.

TV exposure Each round of the Dunlop series is edited into a 30-minute programme by the Midlands-based production outfit, On The Limit Sports, for transmission on terrestrial station, TG4 and also on satellite stations Sky Sports and Motors

TV. The involvement of the Bantry Business Association is a huge bonus for the organisers.

Clerk of the course of the Westlodge Hotel Fastnet Rally, Ger Hayes, declared: 'Firstly, we have been made very welcome in Bantry, the enthusiasm shown by the Bantry Business Association and others is very refreshing.

'I think it's a partnership that our club and the BBA can achieve our aims through.

That, in our case, is principally, to host a safe and enjoyable rally and one that will promote Bantry in the best possible fashion.' Toby Campbell, chairman of the BBA outlined just one of the reasons that prompted the BBA to get involved: 'Our primary objective is to promote Bantry as a town for doing business. As a result there is a very diverse commercial mix that includes manufacturing, retail, construction, pharmaceutical, IT and wholesale. 'Bantry and the surrounding area already has an excellent reputation, both nationally and internationally, and the Fastnet Rally will help to further elevate its profile. Following the success of a number of local rally drivers, there is now a large fan base in Bantry, who will be delighted to see the Fastnet Rally come to Bantry.

The Fastnet Rally will become the latest addition to other sporting fixtures in Bantry that include the Bay Run halfmarathon, road trotting and national road bowling competitions and next year will see the return of the Atlantic Challenge, an international sailing competition.

Other events such as the West Cork Literary Festival, Chamber Music Festival and

Masters of Tradition music festival are well established and attract an international audience.

Mr. Campbell added that the BBA will support the event organisers in marketing the

Westlodge Hotel Fastnet Rally nationally through advertising, sponsorship and the town's website www.bantry.ie while the event will also be publicised locally through local press and marketing material.

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