IT’S well over a year since rally drivers and co-drivers participated in an Irish rally. In fact, it is over 13 months since a steering wheel was turned competitively and nobody really knows when Irish rallying, as we know it, will return.
One thing is certain, it will, but like always will depend on the goodwill of communities that allow the roads involved to be closed. Of course, it will most importantly, too, require the green light from the relevant local authorities.
It is a difficult time for all National Governing Bodies, some of whom have handled the pandemic situation better than others. Sport has provided an uplift in these strange and difficult times where frontline workers are the real heroes.
Some sports were luckier than others but financially, every sport has taken a hit. At a time when NGBs are facing financial difficulties, Sport Ireland has come to the rescue with various forms of grant aid.
For Motorsport Ireland, that proved to be a much-needed windfall. Last December they were informed that they were to receive €465,000 as part of the Sport Ireland Covid-19 Supplementary Scheme. It was divided in two tranches – €210,000 allocated under Scheme 2 for National Governing Body support and the remaining €255,000 to support its affiliated clubs directly under Scheme 3.
In a press release last December, Motorsport Ireland gave an ‘allocation breakdown’ of the €465,000 funding, outlining €110,000 was for 2020 loss on Licence Revenue, €100,000 for Insurance Support and €255,000 to assist clubs with losses sustained by events cancelled due to the pandemic restrictions at short notice and to help with club’s annual fixed costs from March to December 2020.
Motorsport Ireland clubs were issued with the relevant application form in February and were given a specific time period to apply for funding. A total of 25 clubs made applications by the closing date of March 8th. The applications were scrutinised by a panel of six people comprised from the Motor Sport Council and the Irish Motorsport Federation.
The Southern Star understands that some of the figures involved that have become the topic of conversation within various club circles. It is no surprise that Cork Motor Club were awarded the largest amount given the nature of West Cork Rally and that is was cancelled less than 48 hours before it was due to start. They were duly awarded €28,035.56, not an unreasonable amount given that programme and awards costs were around €14,000 (estimated) and had already been incurred as indeed had many other facets involved in the two-day 14-stage rally; a round of the Irish Tarmac and British Rally Championships and the PlasticBags.ie Southern 4 regional series.
The Carrick-on-Suir Motor Club were next, their mini stage (2x3) a non-championship event benefitted to the tune of €26,792.45. Other major recipients were the Donegal Motor Club (€15,854) and Wexford Motor Club (€11,863.72).
In total and given nine clubs opted not to apply, the total sum awarded was €172,834.32, leaving a surplus of €82,165.68. A spokesperson for Motorsport Ireland stated that they will discuss the options for this amount with the Sport Ireland.
Meanwhile, the Skibbereen and District Car Club received €3,406.25 and Munster Car Club got €5,674.69. Amounts to others clubs included €7,864 (Limerick); €6406.82 (Mayo); €6,292 (Killarney & DMC); €3,950 (Kerry); €2,983 (Imokilly) and €2,017 (Clare).
Perhaps it’s worth reviewing how the situation panned out. Last January Covid-19 seemed to be something that was happening much further afield than Ireland. The same month many Irish motorsport aficionados travelled to Birmingham for the annual Autosport International Show.
The 2020 offering was different from an Irish perspective in that Motorsport Ireland had taken a stand for the very first time – to promote its wares so to speak. The venture didn’t get the support of all the affiliated 34 clubs, but the concept was to attract overseas crews to compete in Irish motorsport.
In terms of rally action, a mini stage rally in Donegal, the Carrick-on-Suir Forest Rally and the Abbeyleix Rally were all completed before March. But Covid-19 concerns were more than topical by the finish of the Mayo Rally, the opening round of the Triton Showers National Rally Championship on March 8th that was won by Donegal’s Donagh Kelly (VW Polo GTi R5).
The focus quickly shifted to the Clonakilty Park Hotel West Cork Rally. Would it go ahead? The situation was precarious and was being monitored by the organisers (the Cork Motor Club and the Clonakilty West Cork Rally Committee) in consultation with the relevant national authorities. However, by noon on Thursday March 12th, an announcement by then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about gatherings changed the scenario.
The Cork Motor Club together with the Clonakilty West Cork Rally Committee took the decision to cancel the rally. Hindsight illustrated their collective judgement was the right call.
While Gaelic games continued as part of our sporting diet, albeit with restricted numbers of spectators, rallies throughout the country were being postponed rather than being cancelled, as advised by the governing body.
In mid-summer, Motorsport Ireland convened a meeting in Athlone attended by delegates from interested clubs that were keen to run events. The outcome was the formulation of a rally calendar from July to the year end. But the Covid situation continued to change, local games were eventually halted with only inter-county action on the football, hurling and camogie fields going ahead.
The Wexford Motor Club postponed its two-day rally in September and opted to run a single day event on the Sunday of the October bank holiday weekend, as the Skibbereen club had taken the decision – based on maintaining the goodwill of the community – not to go ahead with the Westlodge Hotel Fastnet Rally on the same weekend. At the Athlone meeting, the Carrick-on-Suir Club had applied to run an event and were encouraged to have a multi-stage rally. Elsewhere, other clubs had called time on their events – with postponement rather than cancellation the word most used. Realistically, time was running out.
The Carrick-on-Suir event, that was subsequently called the Raven’s Rock Rally, gained traction. It was marketed as a mini stage (two stages repeated three times) based in Tramore and was set to take place on October 11th. There were to be no spectators, no rally programme and those entering knew there was no prizes. It was a paperless event. On social media, the organisers stated costs were being kept to a minimum.
On the Monday prior to the event the organisers were informed by email by Waterford City and County Council that it would not be granting the necessary road closure. Following a Freedom of Information request, it was also determined the local council had received objections to the rally.
So in the end, the Mayo Rally was the final event of 2020. Other disciplines of the sport also fell by the wayside including a rallysprint championship in Mondello Park. The resumption of motorsport is now likely to proceed with gated events as opposed to stage rallies that can only resume when it is safe to do so and all concerned are in unison.