West Cork Rally continues to grow in stature and it has taken the next big step
By Martin Walsh
THE recent announcement that next year’s Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally will be a counting round of the British Rally Championship has been welcomed across the sport and business sectors of the award-winning West Cork town.
The rally, first run in 1977, quickly rose to prominence in the formative years due to the influx of overseas crews and its subsequent inclusion in the Motorsport News backed championship.
In the early part of this millennium, the rally, like many others, struggled, particularly in terms of quality rather than quantity. However, it stepped up several gears and, mainly due to the involvement of Clonakilty Blackpudding, it became part of the Irish Tarmac Championship.
One of the features of the event is the involvement of the West Cork Rally Committee. Indeed, it was another local group, Clonakilty Promotions – comprised of Danny O’Donovan and John Lowney and the late Justin Houlihan and Jim Blewitt – that actually spearheaded the concept of having a rally in Clonakilty and the conduit with the Cork Motor Club was Clonakilty man Martin Kingston.
There is no doubt that the Cork Motor Club is extremely fortunate that they have this local support that are now involved in much more than fundraising. The concept of having a local group integrating with the rally organising team is a popular theme in nearly all parts of the country as organising motor/car clubs benefit from this synergy.
Attaining Irish Tarmac Championship status has certainly propelled the West Cork Rally to a much wider audience and it was no real surprise when representatives of the British Rally Championship came to Clonakilty last March to view the event.
The relaxed nature, particularly in terms of time controls, may not have been what they expected. Indeed, BRC rounds tend to pay great attention in adhering to all controls. However, clerk of the course of the Clonakilty event Greg McCarthy told The Southern Star that the 2019 West Cork will run to its usual template, albeit with a few minor changes.
It is important for rally organisers to keep their own tradition. After all, it was on such that this rally gained its popularity.
The BRC invitation has been well received. Mayor of Clonakilty Gretta O’Donovan gave an overview.
‘At the outset, the idea of having the rally was to widen the tourism season,’ she explained.
‘At that time (1977) our tourist season only lasted about six weeks. Now, due to the vision of a group of very special people it begins with the rally on St Patrick’s weekend. Also, at that time accommodation was extremely limited and the rally was the catalyst for many people to move into the B&B sector and what we have today is as a result of that. Of course the spin off is generated back into the local economy.’
She added, ‘Down the years, for whatever reason, we have lost a lot of British tourists and certainly being part of the British Rally Championship will help this and hopefully friends and families of the rally crews will return to Clonakilty and the wider West Cork area. It is a great achievement by all concerned, especially all the volunteers, to see the rally
becoming part of the BRC.’
The involvement of Clonakilty Blackpudding with the Irish Tarmac Championship for a four-year term (2014-2018) was also hugely instrumental in securing full ITC status for the West Cork Rally in 2015 as businesswoman Colette Twomey explained.
‘It is good news for the West Cork Rally and good news for Clonakilty and we are delighted,’ she said.
‘Our mission first day when we sponsored the ITC was that the West Cork Rally would be part of it and it’s going from strength to strength. It’s a credit to all the people involved and the enthusiasm and passion behind it, is just reward.
‘Clonakilty has always been all-embracing of the rally and the St Patrick’s weekend kicks off the tourist season here. It’s more than sport and the TV cameras portray not just the cars, they portray the whole town and regions and all the good things West Cork has to offer and the additional coverage will send that further afield.’
The announcement also coincided with the re-branding of the title sponsor’s hotel.
General Manager David Henry opined, ‘We have rebranded our hotel and this is a great way to launch the Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally.
It really fits. We have a great partnership with the rally going back sixteen years. It’s also a great kick-start to the season.
‘Since joining the ITC the quality of the rally has increased and now with the BRC that will bring more top drivers.
‘It will further enhance Clonakilty as a destination especially with the overseas crews, who will be here for four or five nights. Many competitors come back during the summer with their families and its all about getting and keeping the name Clonakilty on the market.’
Meanwhile, Robert Walsh of the West Cork Rally Committee commented, ‘There’s no hiding the fact that we are delighted but we weren’t surprised. It was a great honour to be asked, as it’s such a prestigious championship.
‘It is also a big accolade for us insofar as it’s the only event within the 26 counties to be part of the series. There is also fresh life being bred into our event as well. The work that has been done over the last few years has been unprecedented and has worked in getting us into the ITC, which we needed to do as the rally was floundering.’
Walsh continued, ‘It was predominantly, and still is, a clubman rally but we needed to bring something special to it. We have the facilities, we have the town and we have the support.’
On its comparison with the Donegal Rally, he responded: ‘You always strive to be as good as the best. I suppose we would like to think that Donegal and ourselves would be on par and that is the benchmark.
‘We have always been trying, needless to say, in conjunction with Cork Motor Club, to try and reach that goal.
We have been lucky that there’s vibrancy at the top to move the event on and Darren and Greg McCarthy always had that vision. Without the support of Colette Twomey we possibly wouldn’t be where we are today.’
For many competitors, competing in a round of the British Rally Championship will offer something different. Clonakilty rally driver Cal McCarthy remarked, ‘It was always an ambition to compete in the British Championship and this is closer to home than what we will ever dream of really. We always looked at the Ulster or Rally Wales as a possibility, but now it’s on our doorstep and it’s brilliant.
‘Having the ITC and the BRC is fantastic especially considering five years ago we had neither. The prospect of competing in a championship won by the greats like Billy Coleman and Keith Cronin across the water and doing that on your home stages is a fantastic opportunity.’
On the status of his local rally, he added, ‘It’s in a different league now than what it was five years ago. Now, everybody around the country speaks about the West Cork Rally whereas before it was West Cork drivers trying to promote it to northern drivers. Now, the event speaks for itself and being asked to join the BRC proves that.’