On the road to recovery
W hen cars competing in next weekend's Circuit of Ireland rally power through the streets of Lisburn on Easter Saturday evening, they will be blazing a trail. It will be the first time that the rally has featured a street stage in the heart of a city.
The Lisburn Power Stage will begin at 6.0pm, when the crews will race against the clock on a double run through the one kilometre circuit of the city centre in what has been designed to be a grand finale to the first day of the event.
The rally, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, has had a chequered history. Indeed, petty squabbles and waning interest threatened its future on more than one occasion but under new directorship there is a determination to restore the event to its former glory days.
Bobby Willis, who competed in the rally in the 1970s, is in his second year as race director. "When I took over the day-to-day running of the Circuit last year, I said I wanted to bring rallying back to the people and this is exactly what the Lisburn Power Stage will do," he said recently, adding: "We will have viewing points which will safely bring spectators closer than ever to the action."
Although the rally was downgraded last week in an effort to entice more entries, there is still a feeling that under Willis' direction, it is heading in the right direction. Last year's race drew 30,000 spectators and although the brand was undoubtedly damaged in recent years, the name 'Circuit of Ireland' still resonates enough -- even with non-motorsport fans -- that it can be resurrected as a major sporting event.
There are over 100 entries to this year's race, which begins at noon next Saturday in Armagh city, and takes in counties Armagh, Down, Antrim, Tyrone and Monaghan over the two days.
Bringing it into Lisburn that first evening is a shrewd move. The city council plans to capitalise too by having a host of family events should generate goodwill and help the rally take another step on the road to recovery.
Sunday Indo Sport