By Kevin Regan
It’s fair to say that the world of Rallying has declined in the past decade, particularly in Ireland.
For years now the Sport has crept away from the limelight, with many of the events a pale shadow of what they used to be.
In the 80’s and 90’s the ‘Circuit of Ireland Rally’ was literally a circuit of Ireland in what was a blockbuster 4 day event throughout the Easter Weekend.
The event attracted top competitors from overseas including the late great Colin McRae, and along with the ‘Rally Of The Lakes’, the Donegal and the ‘Cork 20 Rally’ attracted massive interest from die hard fans and enthusiasts all over Ireland.
However, one event that has maintained it’s own consistent level of interest for years now is the ‘Carlow Stages Rally’ which takes place this Sunday May the 8th.
This is predominantly down to Mark 2 Rally Challenge within the event which came in to play back in 2004, when the ‘Millstreet Maestro’ Billy Coleman made a comeback to lead the field.
There is simply no better sight in Rallying than a Mark 2 Ford Escort flying around a bend with the tail out, going hell for leather using every inch of road available.
In many ways the modern World Rally Cars can be quite boring, because they are literally glued to the road with all the latest technology giving the leading competitors in the main field a distinct advantage in terms of power, grip, traction and braking.
As a person who grew up in the 90’s with nothing but Rallying on the brain, I may be a little biased towards that era, with the likes of Bertie Fisher, Austin McHale, Frank Meagher and Andrew Nesbitt being those who I really looked up to, before taking to the GAA at the age of 12.
I spent my time watching hours upon hours of Rally tapes, with Pat Sullivan of Mallow supplying me with endless copies of action from the 80’s and 90’s. There was nothing more exciting than a thick post envelope arriving to the door knowing full well that a new rally video was inside!
It’s hard to actually believe that Fisher and Meagher are now deceased, and I haven’t seen anyone come near the level of ability that those guys had, that currently compete in Irish Rallying with all due respect to the current competitors who are a lot more capable behind the wheel of a car than I’ll ever be.
Another huge factor in terms of the level or standard which you can compete at is Finance. In fact it’s the single biggest factor in Rallying.
The money needed in order to firstly buy a competitive car is collossal. Then you have to buy parts, tyres, fuel, pay mechanics, transport and to enter an event.
The chances are, the more money you have at your disposal then the more successful you will be and although you obviously have to be talented to succeed in the Sport, it has been proven down through the years.
Frank Meagher was arguably the most talented driver in this country and always punched well above his weight with limited funds, and made it to the top in the mid 90’s when he won the Irish International Tarmac Championship.
After that win, Meagher’s participation was limited due to a lack of finance and there is no doubt in my mind that if he had more money at his disposal then he would have been champion many more times up until his untimely death at the turn of the millennium.
So what this weekends Mark 2 challenge offers spectators is a chance to relive the golden era’s of Rallying where the Ford Escort was at the forefront, and see competitors go flat to the mat across roads where you could barely get down on a bicycle.
The event is free to view and you could do a lot worse than spend some time following it around Old Leighlin, Ballinkillen and the surrounding areas.
Carlow Stages Rally Details
Rally Programmes containing the Stage Maps and Times are available in most local shops from Friday, with the first stage getting underway around 10 o clock on Sunday morning, and we will keep tabs on the event on our Sports shows across the weekend here on KCLR.
Click the link below to hear from Paulstown man Michael Lonergan who is participating in the event on Sunday.