The Ulster Rally was first ran in 1976. It’s unique selling point has consistently been that it is the only event to host both the British and Irish international series and attract future World championship contenders to the roads of Northern Ireland.
Current World Champion Sebastien Ogier and former World Champions Walter Rohrl, Stig Blomqvist, Tommi Makinen and Colin McRae have all competed on Ulster’s roads, while current Citroen team driver Kris Meeke won the event in 2007.
The 2017 event will again be based in Derry/Londonderry with reconnaissance available either the weekend before on the Thursday of rally week. Running late into Friday night before a full day of competition on Saturday this is the only time the British Rally Championship competitors get to take their Irish counterparts on head-to-head.
What happened in 2016.
The penultimate round in 2016 witnessed a champions’ drive from Elfyn Evans and Craig Parry on the lanes around Derry/Londonderry. To claim the title on the Ulster Rally, the Welsh pair had to win the event, an achievement they completed in fine style as they led from start-to-finish, but it wasn’t to be plain sailing for the WRC crew as they were pushed hard by triple BRC Champion Keith Cronin and co-driver Mikie Galvin in their Citroen DS3 R5.
The Irish pair had not been seen in the BRC since their early exit on the Circuit of Ireland – and they were out to make amends. Nestling into third was Cronin’s DGM stablemate Jonathan Greer, who used his Irish Tarmac knowledge to build a cushion ahead of David Bogie.
Eventual BRC Champion Evans and eventual Irish Champion Cronin were separated by a mere 4.5 seconds at the end of the first day, but problems struck the latter at the lunchtime service on day two. Gearbox and differential gremlins had worked their way into the DS3 R5, meaning Cronin had to leave service late with a stack of penalties. Fighting his way back, the Irishman recovered to fourth on his return to the series while Greer and Bogie rounded out the rostrum – both claiming their second podiums of the campaign.
Local star Greer details some of the challenges of the Ulster Rally:
“They are always good stages and offer everything – bumps, jumps, fast sections, smooth Tarmac and then really tight, technical sections.
“It’s great to have some night-time stages as well. We don’t get to do much in the dark nowadays and it is always a different atmosphere at night. You see the ‘hi-vis’ jackets of the marshals and spectators, the flash bulbs going off at junctions and it really focuses your driving. You only have this narrow window, highlighted by the spotlights in which to work and it drags you in.”