The Circuit of Ireland is back in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship! The most popular rally on the island of Ireland is round two and will be based in Newcastle, County Down over the Easter weekend. After its legal problems last year when the rally didn’t take place, all the issues around the ownership of the name have been resolved. Originally run over five days across Ireland, it is now centralised with stages in four counties.

With all the big names entered in the Circuit, one driver is missing and will be for the year. Four time and current Irish Tarmac Rally Champion, Eugene Donnelly will not be competing as his latest sponsorship deal fell through. He had also failed to finish the Galway International Rally with mechanical problems.

Donnelly said, “We have been really struggling to get a budget together, even from late last year, which had a difficult end. Then we had a deal fall through on us early this year, and since then it’s been even more difficult, especially with the timescale involved, and companies budgets being allocated, to pull things together for the rest of the season. I’ve tried my best to keep the thing alive, but at this stage it’s simply just not working out for us."

Even with Donnelly gone, there is still a strong entry list. Gareth MacHale is seeded number one courtesy of his FIA WRC ranking as he has competed in the WRC, collecting points in Rally Mexico in 2006 and Rally Ireland last year.  His Ford Focus will be severely tested by the number two seed Mark Higgins’ Subaru. Higgins already has maximum points from Galway after he overtook Tim McNulty on the last stage of that event.  But McNulty will have his new Subaru WRC, which he drove to fifth place in last weekend’s National Rally Championship round in Mayo. Eamonn Boland, in another Subaru WRC, and MacHale’s brother Aaron, in a Ford Focus, complete the top five.

The rest of the top ten comprises Derek McGarrity, fresh from winning the first round of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship last weekend. Peader Hudson, Dennis Biggerstaff, Gary Jennings and Kevin Kelleher will also be striving for a points finish. Kelleher’s participation is in doubt after a big crash in Mayo, with his Mitsubishi Evo 9 suffering a lot of damage.

At the recent press launch, Clerk of the Course Nigel Hughes stated that he was very reliant on the marshals. “We have had tremendous support over the years with all their hard work and dedication. Also the residents who allow us along their roads, the co-operation has been great.”

The chairman of the Ulster Automobile Club, Stephen Potts, said he is very disappointed not to have Eugene Donnelly participating. “Unfortunately his finances didn’t come together. I spoke to him in the last few weeks but he won’t be back to defend his win of last year, but that ís rallying!

“It is a tough sport with some cars costing over £500,000. Then it ís £17,000 per day and with a three-day rally, it doesn’t take long to do the maths and it’s not for everybody. But the brand name, the Circuit of Ireland, is the best known and it ís the one they all want to win”, he added.

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