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Motorsport: New recession-busting series for petrol heads

While motorsport competitor numbers have inevitably been affected by the ongoing economic woes in the last few seasons, a group of racing enthusiasts are forging ahead with plans for an exciting new recession-busting series.

In what could turn out to be the template for new championships, the Cento Challenge is a grassroots series using competition-prepared versions of the popular mini-hatchback Cinquecento and Seicento models.

Continuing a long-running affinity between Irish racers and the Fiat marque, the series will give members the opportunity to compete in a variety of disciplines.

Harking back to an earlier era, the aim of the series is to offer budget competition in a vehicle which can be driven to and from events and which can be used without modification in endurance rallying, multi-event trials and race meetings.

The brainchild of Hillclimb star Simon McKinley and long-time circuit racer Dermot Nolan, the Cento Challenge already has 16 registered drivers, an impressive number for an Irish start-up series, with many more prospective drivers having declared an interest and eagerly scanning classified ads for suitable cars. Well-maintained examples of the current Seicento and Cinquecento models can be purchased for less than €1,000 and a DIY preparation package from Murray Motorsport including a bolt-in roll cage, a seat and a harness is also €1,000.

With the rules stipulating no engine modifications, there is a tight rein on the natural urge to boost competitiveness via the wallet, and the organisers are also planning to introduce a rule that will allow any competitor to purchase a rival's vehicle for a standard price to help prevent any surreptitious and costly machine development.

A well-attended multi-event test trial at Mondello Park last weekend got the series off to a great start and the club is now focusing on an endurance rally event next month. The organisers are looking at the possibility of entering the class in race meetings before the end of the season.

Showing the practicality and accessibility of the series, McKinley won at Mondello last weekend and was using his car as a runabout on Monday.

The Cento Challenge could well prove to be a ground-breaking initiative in the development of the sport on the island and it will be interesting to see how it is viewed by Motorsport Ireland.

In their late-90s development plan for circuit racing, the governing body attempted to streamline competitors into a small number of classes while planning for the phased ending of championships using obsolete machinery.

Some will argue that, should the Cento Challenge hit the circuits, yet another class for discontinued Fiat models to add to the Fiat Punto Abarth, Fiat Punto 1400 and Fiat Uno classes will be at least one too many.

However, the instant success of the venture suggests that there is a big demand for a low-budget 'no trailer required' class offering unparalleled variety for petrol heads no longer able or willing to contemplate Celtic Tiger running costs.

Irish Independent