THE new look McGrady Insurance Motorsport UK Northern Ireland Rally Championship gets underway at Kirkistown on Saturday when there will be a healthy contingent of Tyrone crews keen to get their seasons off to a bright start.
The revamped series will feature five events – all predominantly tarmac rallies – held between February and July.
Championship organisers have made the bold decision to overhaul the series in a bid to lower costs and increase competition with a number of changes designed to entice competitors to tackle all five rounds.
And one local competitor, Beragh’s Adam Vance, who is the reigning Group N and class 1 champion, is champing at the bit to get back into action alongside his dad and co-driver, David, in their Honda Civic.
“There will be a few people expecting me to do it again, but I don’t know now! We’ll give it a go, but we’ll make no promises!,” exclaimed the 25-year-old.
“After last year hopefully means we’ll be able to use what we had and improve upon it. Last year was about gaining experience but this year the aim is to improve on my times from last year. But everyone else who did it last year could improve as well, so we’ll have to go harder than them!”
Adam and David are also intending on entering the Circuit of Ireland [Easter Stages], Ulster Rally and the Bushwhacker Rally too. They wish to thank their sponsors: WH Alexander Plant and Civil Engineering Ltd, DJC Maintenance Ltd and Conor Kelly Car Repairs.
With the NI Rally Championship being entirely run on tarmac this year, there will also be a separate series – ANICC Forest Rally Challenge – run for gravel enthusiasts like Castlederg’s Andrew Bustard who has entered both.
He believes it’s a move in the right direction, but he’d like to see more road stages rather than circuit events [there’s three in 2020] in the NI Rally Championship.
“I think they have done very, very well this year, although I think they need to use more stages rather than circuits,” said the north Tyrone car and van dealer. “But this year, this is the first trial year of separating it and if it works then they’ll look for more road closure orders for stages.”
The Championship starts with the traditional season-opening Pacenotes Rally Magazine Stages at County Down’s Kirkistown Race Circuit on Saturday where local crews Jason Mitchell & Kenny Bustard, Gareth Sayers & Gareth Gilchrist, Fabian McAleer & Steven Monaghan and Marty McKenna & Russell Roberts will also compete.
Bishopscourt Race Circuit hosts round two in March while round three’s Maiden City Stages will be held at Shackleton, County Londonderry, in April. The final two rounds are closed-road events – May’s Tour of the Sperrins Rally and July’s Cookstown based Tyrone Stages.
The Forestry Series, meanwhile, gets underway with the Samsonas Fivemiletown Rally on February 22nd, followed by the Lakeland Stages, Bushwhacker Rally and Glens of Antrim Rally.