By John Kenny
2012 is shaping up to be a decent year for Irish motorsport with the return of the Phoenix Park Motor Races, the Circuit of Ireland hosting a round of the Intercontinental Rally Championship and the Bavaria City racing giving Irish domestic motorsport a chance to show off their wares over the June bank holiday weekend.
The Phoenix Park has hosted motor racing on-and-off since the 1920s and the Phoenix Park Motor Races was due to be run in 2011, but was eventually cancelled.
However, the Office of Public Works in Dublin was anxious to bring racing back to the Lung of Dublin this year to celebrate the 350th year of the public space.
Motorsport Ireland is planning to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the historic races on the weekend of 18/19 August and details of the event will be unveiled in the coming months.
While the Bavaria City Racing on 3 June is not officially a raceday, it will feature Formula One cars with Jenson Button and the Vodafone F1 team already confirmed for the event.
In addition, the organisers are also lining up a host of Irish motorsport guests which will give the domestic scene a much needed shot in the arm and a chance to show off to a potential audience that is expected to be in the hundreds of thousands.
Over the Easter weekend, the Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland, the biggest name in Irish rallying, will be very much in the spotlight as it hosts round three of the IRC on 6/7 April.
The series for non-world rally cars comes to Ireland for the first time and will feature Craig Breen, the winner of the World Rally Championship (WRC) Academy class in 2011 and the SWRC class in the Monte Carlo Rally last weekend, in his Ford Fiesta. Breen will also contest the Circuit of Ireland in his Ford Fiesta S2000, in what promises to be a very busy season for the 21-year-old from Waterford.
The likes of Dubliner Robert Barrable will almost certainly contest the Circuit of Ireland in his Skoda Fabia and a number of other Irish privateers will also mix it with the more established factory machines when the IRC comes to our shores in April.
2012 was due to be a big year for Dungannon’s Kris Meeke and his Killarney navigator Paul Nagle.
The pair contested six selected rounds of the WRC in the Mini Cooper backed by Prodrive, who previously ran the Subaru team with a view to a full season this year.
However, the Mini John Cooper Works WRC team failed to sign-up for the upcoming WRC season and the pair missed the opening round in Monte Carlo.
A lack of funds is being quoted as the reason for not applying to run in the 2012 championship as the team’s parent company BMW has turned its attention to German Touring Car DTM instead.
Meeke and Nagle have been released from their three-year contract after just one year of rallying with the Mini team, in a year that saw the pair take an excellent fourth place on the season ending rally GB.
The vacancy created by Meeke will be filled by paid drivers that already have a lined up sponsor backing and his team mate Dani Sordo is likley to be the team's sole works driver.
Just what the future now holds for Meeke and Nagle remains to be seen, although Meeke has been retained as a test and development driver with Prodrive, which is unlikely to fully satisfy his desire to rally in the WRC.
On the Irish Circuit Racing scene, a new initiative by Motorsport Ireland in its awarding of the Sexton Trophy for the Young Racing Driver of the Year, might just kickstart the ailing Irish Championships.
The 2012 winner will be selected purely from domestic classes, and in 2013 will get a full season of racing in Formula Ford 1600, run by Bernard Dolan and Mick Merrigan.
While there is still no Irish Formula Ford Championship, there is talk of one-off trophy weekends with a view to perhaps a full return next season.
Young Irish drivers are now actively being encouraged to stay at home and race this season with the promise of a €50,000 prize pot being dangled in front of the best of those come season's end.
There remains only a handful of Irish drivers racing abroad and in 2012 Peter Dempsey and Patrick McKenna are likely to stay in the USA.
Portadown’s Adam Carroll is looking to get a full season in IndyCar in the USA, along with racing in AutoGP and GP2, while Gary Thompson will continue to ply his trade in Japanese Formula 3 in 2012.
Dubliner Aron Smith, winner of the 2011 Young Driver of the Year, is aiming to move from the Clio Cup to the British Touring Car Championship.