It has been a long time coming but three-and-a-half years after the request was first made, R5 and Rally2 cars converted over to right-hand-drive are set to be put on a par with their homologated equivalents.
Barring a late hiccup, the rule change is expected to be ratified next week and take immediate effect at June’s Donegal International Rally – the next round of the 2022 Irish Tarmac Championship. It means all cars in this class will be eligible to win any of the five closed-road international rallies in the Republic Ireland.
Until now, only left-hand-drive R5 and Rally2 cars such as the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai i20 and Volkswagen Polo could compete for overall honours – a situation top drivers have repeatedly asked to be changed.
Back in March, former Tarmac champions Garry Jennings and Tim McNulty pulled their support for the cross-border Championship, frustrated by the lack of movement around the long-running issue.
Paddy Flanagan – the Irish Tarmac Championship manager – has been the person acting as the go-between since the middle of 2018, taking the views of competitors to the Tarmac Rally Organisers’ Association who, in turn, have been liaising closely with the sanctioning body – Motorsport Ireland.
“Motorsport Ireland always said it would happen but these things take time – maybe more time than some would have liked – but the upcoming rule change is a fantastic step. It is very welcome,” said Flanagan.
“Everyone associated with the Irish Tarmac Championship realises this is a big moment for the series. This has been running on and on and it’s great to see things are starting to move in the right direction.
“No rounds are struggling for entries this year so far, and if that carries over into next season the rule change is going to push up total R5/Rally2 car numbers and add to the competition and excitement.”
Those who compete in left-hand-drive cars and have endorsed the sea change include Circuit of Ireland Rally winner Alastair Fisher and Callum Devine – the recent Rally of the Lakes victor.
“It has been a progressive item and there has been a train of discussion around it, so it was always going to take time,” explained Fisher, “but it will increase the attraction of the Tarmac Championship.”
Devine agreed, adding: “I think it’s a great job. It’s only going to be good for the Tarmac Championship. It would’ve been good if it was sorted sooner as some of the guys we had at the first round in Galway haven’t returned due to the delay in the regulation change – but it should all be sorted for Donegal.”
Once the rule change is finally set in stone, competitors will be expected to provide Motorsport Ireland with an engineers’ report that certifies the work that has been carried out in switching the steering wheel from the left-hand-side to the right-hand-side in their cars is up to standard.
A spokesperson for Motorsport Ireland said: “The rule change is a step closer. It’s fair to say everyone wants this rule change to happen, it just takes time because it has to go through the correct process.”