BY MARTIN WALSH
SPORT has taken a big hit this week with the Government’s decision to move all counties to Level 3 restrictions in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.
In motorsport, the Raven’s Rock Rally that was due to take place on Sunday is one of the many events that have fallen by the wayside. However, The Southern Star can reveal that Waterford City and County Council had taken the decision on Monday not to grant the necessary road closures and informed the club of their decision that evening.
A number of local drivers including the Ford Fiesta R5 trio of Daniel Cronin (Ballylickey), David Guest (Dunmanway) and Owen Murphy (Ovens) had intended to compete.
On Tuesday evening last the organisers, the Carrick-on-Suir Motor Club, issued a press release stating that the rally has been postponed until further notice. The decision, they said, was made in consultation with Motorsport Ireland in light of the changes in guidelines and restrictions announced by the Government.
Last March, the West Cork Rally was the first event to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic. The Cork Motor Club in consultation with the local rally committee made the decision not to proceed with the event that had attracted a superb entry and was a counting round of both the Irish Tarmac and British Rally Championships. The club cited the decision was based on their desire to retain their excellent relationships with the local community. It is no secret that pressure from certain sections of motorsport were brought to bear, but they stood firm on their decision.
As time went by, other rallies were postponed rather than cancelled but as we now know, nothing went ahead. Motorsport Ireland, the sport’s governing body, convened a meeting in mid-year to formulate a calendar for the latter part of 2020. Just three rally events featured on the revised calendar - the Wexford Volkswagen Rally; an event that was to be promoted by the Carrick on Suir Motor Club (added on the day of the meeting) and the Killarney Historic Rally. The date for the Wexford Rally was subsequently changed to October 25th - normally the date of the Fastnet Rally while the Carrick event - was re-named as the Raven’s Rock Rally and the Killarney Historic date was November 28th.
The Wexford event, originally a two-day event in the revised calendar, was later reduced to a single day - a mini stage rally - two stages repeated three times. The Raven’s Rock was also designed on the mini stage rally format. In normal circumstances, World Rally Cars (WRC’s) and R5 cars are prohibited in such events, but the Carrick club overcame this issue by attaining a national permit for the event.
Over the last few weeks there’s been intense discussion in rally circles about the hosting of rallies. The three clubs involved would appear to be the only clubs interested, the remaining clubs feel, for different reasons, it is not in their best interest to organise and promote a rally at this time.
It is widely known that the vast majority of the members of the Rallies Commission were of the view that no rally should take place this year. In recent weeks, they refused an application by the Carrick on Suir organisers for an extra ten entries for the Raven’s Rock Rally. However, the decision, following an appeal to the Motorsport Council, was overruled and granted. The Carrick event has caused rancour within their own club, the decision to run the event was taken by the club directors, all bar one were in favour of it going ahead. Many of those involved in previous events hosted by the club were not involved this time around.
Over last weekend, clerk of the course, James Coleman told The Southern Star that he has the full support of all the residents along the two rally stages but opposition to the event has come from rallying people. Prior to the Government decision, he stated that he had the full support of the Health Service Executive, Waterford City and County Council, Waterford Tramore Racecourse Company Limited and the Gardai.
‘It’s been very difficult, as a club we produced a forty-two page specific document just for the Raven’s Rock. We gave it to all the stakeholders and they were majorly impressed with it and felt we could do no more and would like to see us getting back.’
On the support of the HSE, he added, ‘People are surprised, but to be fair to them (HSE) every single person in the HSE have a child or have some form of sport they do themselves. I think that they appreciate that, unlike a ball game, you can’t take a rally car out into the back garden and start hitting it off a wall. They appreciate that there are a lot of people involved in the sport over the years and for their general well-being are missing it.’
The intention of the organisers was that it was to be a non-spectator event. ‘We are asking our supporters to support us this year by staying away, we will have signs on the stages. We have no doubt that spectators will turn up, we have 250 houses on the stages, not one house mentioned Covid to us on two PR’s and they were so pleased to see us.’ Coleman said.
He was aware of the criticism that was circulating on social media. ‘I have been forwarded a number of comments written by people within our sport. I have to respect people that don’t want to do the rally but don’t criticise the people that want to or criticise the people that want to make that happen for them. People also seem to have forgotten that there are people that make a living out of rallying.’
Speaking on Saturday last, he stated that it was the intention not to publish an entry list but confirmed there were no overseas entries or crews involved. He also stated that crews from a Level 3 county were quite entitled to do the event and it’s a personal decision for them to travel. He added, ‘It’s a national permitted event and is pre-fixture and under sporting regulations they are allowed do the event. It is very clear. The Government guidelines on sport are if it’s a national permitted event and a pre-fixture, officials and/or competitors can travel from a Level 3 restricted area. If Waterford went Level 3, we could run the event but the club would not.’
In relation to a competitor that withdrew his entry last week and was refused a refund, Coleman commented, ‘Once the event is over, we will have a look, see what’s what and give consideration to refunding the entry in full or part thereof.’
The club statement concluded ‘Finally to our competitors and rally suppliers, It was for you guys and girls we did this and we have no doubt you all appreciate the struggles we have had to endure and the lengths we went to in order to get the Raven’s Rock Rally 2020 to the point it is at today, ready to run but unfortunately it’s not to be at this time.’
There is no doubt that at a time when Irish motorsport appears to be very unsettled, the current situation has caused further unease - ironically - Irish rallying is not staying together by staying apart.