The man overseeing the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship is tipping the cross-border series to return bigger and better in 2022 following a two-year reprieve because of the coronavirus health pandemic.
Championship boss Paddy Flanagan has confirmed that a number of leading drivers have already made it clear that they intend to be on the start line at the first round in Galway at the beginning of February.
Galway 2019 was the last time a round of the ITRC was held before lockdown measures were imposed, and the series was shelved. On that occasion, Alastair Fisher took his first tarmac win in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.
With no ITRC this year either, the Moffett brothers – Sam and Josh, both winners of the championship – as well as Garry Jennings headed for the British Championship. Jonny Greer, meanwhile, decided to stay closer to home and went on to clinch the Northern Ireland Championship title for a second time.
However, with all rounds bar June’s Donegal International reverting back to a two-day format in 2022, Flanagan feels there is the potential for next season to go down in history as one of the greatest ever.
“It’s certainly a possibility,” he said. “Even at this early stage it’s shaping up to be a fantastic title battle; we have many of the regulars, if you like, returning and there is the real prospect for one, maybe two drivers from the UK who could join them. If they do, the level of competition will go up another level.
“People want to go rallying and that makes my job that bit easier,” he added. “I think the break did all of the organising team good but at the same time we have missed the buzz and the razmataz of it all.
“Everyone has missed the Tarmac Championship, from the marshals to the timekeepers, to the guys back in the service park to all the fans. They have been starved of motorsport action and I think I speak for everyone when I say the return of the Irish Tarmac Championship cannot come a day too soon.”
After Galway on the weekend of February 5/6, the ITRC travels to West Cork (March 19/20) before it comes north for the Circuit of Ireland on Good Friday and Easter Saturday. The Rally of the Lakes in Killarney is up next (April 30 – May 1) before all eyes turn to the three-day Donegal Rally (June 17-19).
Some uncertainty surrounds the Ulster Rally due to the possibility of the FIA World Rally Championship visiting the province next summer. If that does happen, the Ulster will have to vacate its August 19-20 slot, although organisers have said they have “contingency plans” to ensure it goes ahead at a later date should this happen. The final ITRC event is the Cork ‘20’ International Rally from September 24 to 25.
“The Tarmac Championship has always been an attractive place to come for drivers and co-drivers and I think the fact the British Championship isn’t coming to Ireland next year has increased interest,” said Flanagan. “As I said already: the response so far has been incredible and I am sure it will continue.”