Motorsport: Organisers forced to downgrade 'Circuit' in bid to attract entrants
While the second round of the Dunlop National Rally Championship on Sunday has once again attracted an entry of quality and quantity, the organisers of Easter's Circuit of Ireland have downgraded the event to national status in an effort to entice crews and cars out of workshops.
The once iconic Circuit of Ireland has enthusiastic support from Donnelly Group in association with UTV Drive and an energetic organising committee headed by Bobby Willis, who is pulling out all the stops to ensure a representative turn-out.
Having been handed a calendar headache at the start of the year with the proximity of Easter, the traditional date of the Circuit, to the following week's Rally of the Lakes in Killarney, which had annexed the May Bank Holiday, Circuit organisers have been forced to reduce their event status to maintain entry levels.
With just 80 entries received for the event, including Historics and one-day competitors, organisers are hoping that the move to national status will encourage competitors focusing on the single-day Northern Ireland Championship to upgrade their entry to take part on both days.
Meanwhile, there are eight World Rally Cars, an S2000 car and a top Group N car in the top 10 starters for Sunday's Hillgrove Hotel Monaghan Rally as the Dunlop National Rally Championship continues to attract the strongest entries in Irish rallying.
Last year's winner, local ace Niall Maguire, is top seed in his Subaru WRC and, having failed to score major Dunlop points on the opening round in Abbeyleix, is well aware of the challenge facing him as he chases a seventh victory on the event.
"I could do with a win, but Tim McNulty will be very hard to shake off," said Maguire. "His Subaru S12B will gain time exiting the many junctions on the stage."
Series leader, Tarmac series star McNulty (Subaru WRC), led from the start in Abbeyleix, finishing almost a minute ahead of reigning Dunlop champion Mel Evans, who is not competing in Monaghan.
Maynooth's Kevin Barrett (Subaru WRC), who won the Mayo Rally and finished second in the recent Circuit of Kerry, will be hoping to bring that form to Monaghan.
Another Dunlop regular, Derek McGarrity, swaps his Group N Mitsubishi Evo X for a Subaru WRC this weekend as he prepares for the Circuit of Ireland the following week.
West Cork Rally winner Robert Barrable will be co-driven by Monaghan's Damien Connolly in their Skoda Fabia.
Another Monaghan driver, Adrian McElvaney (Subaru WRC), starts sixth on a rare outing ahead of Cork's Daragh O'Riordan (Subaru WRC), who finished just 1.3 seconds behind Barrable in Clonakilty.
Limerick's Colm Murphy (Subaru) is the top Group N driver as he continues his Dunlop quest. And the final places in the top 10 are occupied by Omagh's Seamus Leonard (Subaru WRC) and Dunmanway's Liam McCarthy (Toyota Corolla WRC), who was seventh in Abbeyleix.