The organisers of the Dunlop National Rally Championship have stolen something of a march on the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship (ITRC) by announcing that next season’s series will feature a National title for the Ford Escort Mark 2.
The Dunlop National Mark 2 Escort Champions Trophy announcement follows the recent decision to revamp the 2012 series that will now feature eight events instead of the current ten with the best six to count towards the overall title.
At one stage, the championship consisted of 14 rounds run on a regional basis, but that was reduced to ten, with the best seven rounds counting.
This season, even though it remained a ten-round championship, there were still 14 different clubs involved in the series with four opting out to leave a ten-round campaign.
Last season, a National Rally Championship sub-committee spoke with competitors and there was universal agreement - given the economic climate - the series needed to be reduced in size.
The 14 events were then divided into two groups of seven with the best geographical spread and a wild card rally drawn to complete the eight round series next season, which will remain as one day events.
The decision to also introduce a Mark 2 Ford Escort National Title also points to the fact that very few new cars are being purchased to compete in both the National and Tarmac events, but there are certainly plenty of older machines sitting in garages the length and breadth of the country.
It’s those cars and drivers that the organisers would like to see out on the roads next year in the new slim line National series.
The 2012 Championship starts with the Birr Rally in Abbeyleix on 26 February and will be followed by Mayo (11 March), The Circuit of Kerry (1 April), Carlow (13 May), Circuit of Munster (3 June), the Tipperary Stonethrowers (5 August), Clare (16 September) and the Donegal Harvest (6 October).
It’s likely that the other six rallies that are not part of the 2012 series will be run as one off events next year and are likely to be rotated back into the championship in future.
The ITRC is the senior rally championship in Ireland, but is showing signs of a decline with falling entries and individual rallies basically allowed to run their own events, rather than be governed by the Tarmac Rally Organisers Association (TROA).
The case in point came this season when the Circuit of Ireland and the Killarney Rally of the Lakes both refused point blank to shift from their traditional dates, thus we had the bizarre situation of both events running only a week apart.
The result? Two top class events saw their entries diluted making a mockery of what should be Ireland’s top International Rally championship.
That situation came as no surprise as the TROA them selves have also steadfastly refused to change over the years.
For example, the championship organisers insisted that the Jim Clark Rally in Scotland and the Isle of Man Rally be part of the ITRC in previous years despite the fact that only a handful of domestic competitors bothered to travel on the grounds of cost.
Their hands were forced somewhat when both events pulled out of the Irish series, leaving six rallies; Galway, The Circuit, Killarney, Donegal, Ulster and the Cork 20, as their championship events.
Entries though have been on the slide in recent years at the top end especially with only a handful of world rally cars competing this season, which allowed Tim McNulty to take the championship with the Meath man also adding the National crown, the first time a driver has won both series in the same season.
Now there is even talk of a split over the TV coverage of the ITRC.
RPM has supplied coverage of the Tarmac championship for decades now but the TROA have been unable to get the championship onto RTE which has caused problems with potential sponsors.
There is the possibility that the series may be broken up in terms of TV coverage with the likes of Killarney and the Cork 20 maybe looking to go it alone and organise their own separate TV deals.
There are also rumours that the Circuit of Ireland will become part of the Intercontental Rally Challenge (IRC) next season, a series second only to the World championship which may affect it being part of the ITRC next season.
It’s patiently obvious that TROA needs a collective will to rescue the championship to stop it falling into a permanent decline.
The series will maintain its format of six rounds for the 2012 season, with the competitors' best five scores counting towards the overall results.
However, 50% bonus points will be up for grabs at Galway's opening round as well as the season closing event in Cork.
In addition, points will be awarded to the fastest crews after each leg of a rally. Three points will be awarded to the rally leader, while two points will be awarded to the crew in second position and one point will be awarded to those in third.
In a further innovation for 2012, where a competitor finishes an event under 'SuperRally' regulations - a system that allows competitors who retire during the first and second leg of an event to restart on the following day - they will still be able to score Championship points.
In an effort to raise the profile of the Historic Section, in addition to the current classes, TROA will also be introducing a new category to cater for FIA registered entries.