By John Kenny
The Irish Motorsport fraternity, especially those involved in rallying, can look back on 2011 with a certain degree of pride and satisfaction on results in both the domestic and international scene.
Cork man Keith Cronin was the big Irish rallying story of 2010 when he completed back-to-back British titles, but it was Waterford driver Craig Breen who took over the mantle with telling effect last season.
Breen won a place in the newly formed World Rally Championship (WRC) Academy class, which was limited to the Ford Fiesta RT supplied by M-Sport and was designed to bring through the best drivers competing in similar cars.
Breen proved to be the class act of the series going on to win a €500,000 prize fund after a hectic season in which he had to set fastest times in the last five stages of Rally GB to claim the title ahead of Estonian Egon Kaur.
This he did with aplomb and it added to two fine runs in Intercontinental Rally Championship rounds in Belgium and Scotland where he finished in the top 10 in his privately entered S2000 Ford Fiesta.
Dungannon's Kris Meeke entered the WRC for the first time with the Mini Cooper as the historic marquee re-entered the series in 2011.
Meeke and his Killarney co-driver Paul Nagle did six selected rounds as a precursor to a tilt at a full WRC programme in 2012 and he rounded out the season with some decent stage times and a fourth placed finish behind world champion Sebastian Loeb at Rally GB.
However, just before Christmas, Mini announced it would field just one car for Spaniard Dani Sordo with a second auctioned to paid drivers.
Meeke, with two years left on his contract, is now at this moment out of the WRC but is expected to remain with the team, carrying out test and development work.
On the domestic scene, rallying wasn't immune to the downturn and while entries to most events were still healthy enough, the more powerful world rally cars driven by the more established drivers were absent.
In their absence Meath man Tim McNulty won not only the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship (ITRC) but the National crown as well.
In doing so the Subaru Impreza driver became the first driver in Irish rallying history to win both championships in a single season.
Owen Murphy won the Irish Forestry championship in his Mitsubishi Evo 9.
In contrast to an eventful rallying season, Irish domestic car racing continued to be somewhat underwhelming in 2011 with no real outstanding classes or drivers coming through.
Once again a lack of entries is keeping Irish car racing on the back-foot, but a new initiative to give the Young Racing Driver of the Year a full season in Formula Ford in 2013 may help to focus minds.
The fact that this year's award will be limited to Irish racing classes is maybe the injection the domestic racing scene needs.
Abroad, Meath man Peter Dempsey continues his climb up the world motorsport ladder by competing in the US Indy Lights series, one step down from a full Indy Car drive.