A FORMULA 3000 test for the winner, F3 tests for second and third, and cash prizes for the top three are the mouthwatering rewards for the new Formula Ireland premier Irish single seater class announced this week.
After months of negotiation, big time 'slicks and wings' single seater racing is ready to return to Ireland in 2002, with the announcement of the new Formula Ireland series, a joint initiative promoted by Mondello Park in association with Motorsport Ireland.
Echoing popular top Irish racing series of the past, the exciting new Formula Ireland championship is set to revitalise the Irish single seater racing scene with grids of fast, sophisticated cars doing battle in Ireland's premier racing championship.
Formula Ireland is a series designed to test the ability of the best of Irish home grown talent, and provide those drivers with the skills necessary to move on to the international stage.
The new series will utilise identical Formula One style 'slicks and wings' Van Diemen chassis powered by a sealed 170bhp Ford engine tuned by the famed Scholar engine firm, with a gearbox supplied by Hewland.
The car will run on single make F3 specification slick tyres.
Martin Birrane, proprietor of both Mondello Park and the world's top racing car manufacturer, Lola, is fully behind the new series.
Reflecting the importance of the new championship, the Mayoman has arranged that the inaugural Formula Ireland champion will win a test drive with a Formula 3000 team. The 550bhp F3000 cars are all built by his Lola firm.
The 2002 champion will also win a substantial cash prize courtesy of the 'Friends of Mondello' as well as a commitment to career help and guidance from many of Ireland's top motorsport personalities associated with the 'Friends of Mondello' scholarship scheme.
And that's not all.
The second and third placed drivers will win test drives with a Formula Three team and cash prizes in what represents the biggest ever prize scheme in the history of Irish motor racing.
In a further boost to the new series, race entry and official test fees at Mondello Park will be waived for all registered drivers.
Both chassis manufacturer Van Diemen, and engine supplier Scholar, have pledged an on-track spares support service as the series establishes itself in the first season.
Meanwhile, Mondello Park has arranged an independent finance scheme for car purchase to assist drivers and teams entry into the series.
Stability is a key element of the Formula Ireland initiative and, after consultation with Motorsport Ireland, the organisers are pleased to announce that the series will be in place for five years using the same Van Diemen chassis.
Dates for the championship have been confirmed, with the first event of the 10 race series set for the Mondello Park International circuit on May 5-6 on a bill that includes the visiting Force F1/F5000 series.
The series will also visit Kirkistown in Northern Ireland, as well as supporting the British Touring Car Championship visit to Mondello on June 22-23 and concludes with a double header at the Leinster Trophy meeting at Mondello on September 14-15.
ULSTER'S Junior World Championship contender, Niall McShea, who finished third in last year's series in a Citroen Saxo, has a new team for 2002.
The former Roger Clark award winner has switched to GM-Opel, with the Ray Mallock team, and will debut the Opel Corsa Super 1600 at the glamorous Monte-Carlo Rally on Friday week.
This is McShea's first assault on rallying's most famous event. "I am under no illusions about the challenges (co-driver) Michael Orr and I will face getting to grips with the conditions," he said.
"The whole championship is designed to prepare us for the step up to the manufacturer world rally championship teams, and this is all part of the learning curve."
TALENTED F3 star Derek Hayes has decided on a switch to the French Formula Three series.
After scoring a win and several podium finishes in last year's British F3 championship, Dungannon star Hayes had been expected to return to the British series, but the offer of a drive in France swayed him. Last year's French F3 champion Ryo Fukuda has been selected as a test driver for the BAR-Honda team this year. Hayes is aiming for a similar result with the LD Autosport team.
Sunday Mayo & DMC Single Stage Rally, Castlecourt Hotel, Westport 10.20.