The 2016 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship is set to hit the ground running after the overwhelming success of the previous year. The 2015 series went right down to the wire, both for the overall honours and several of its smaller classes including the hotly contested Junior category. The final round in the Glens of Antrim saw lots of drama and over the final loop of stages we seen the fight between the 2 top championship contenders fall in Josh Moffetts favour but unfortunately his title rival Mick O'Brien was unable to finish the event. Josh was on a great pace throughout the series but it was Omaghs Mark Donnelly who took the overall event win in Antrim in his newly aquired Subaru Impreza S10 WRC and with his earlier win at his home event, The Bushwacker Rally in September, we can't help but wonder if Mark will come back to contest the whole series in 2016?
When asked if he would like to compete for the National Forest Rally Championship, Mark told us that he would be very interested but he hadn't finalised any plans at that time but would seriously look at it. Current Champion Josh Moffett was another man who wasn't sure what 2016 had in store when we talked to him but he too would like to be heading to Carrick on Suir in February if possible. Even though the last round of the series wasn't good to Mick O'Brien, he wants to come back to the forests for another title challenge after buying a new Ford Focus RS WRC. Some of the others that have confirmed their intentions include Niall Henry, John Gordon, David Crossen, Mickey Conlon, Shane McGirr, Emmet Cronin and Robert Moffett (Josh's Dad), who will be making a return to the sport after a long break in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
There are a lot of new plans and new vehicles in the country right now and with the first event of the Valvoline Series just around the corner, it could be very interesting to see who chooses to use it as a shake down before the British Rally Championship opener in March. On the 14th of February, the 2016 Willie Loughman Memorial Carrick on Suir Forest Rally will once again be the first round of the series and based in the Piltown GAA Complex this time with a centralised service area in the Mill River Business Park. Clerk of the Course Barry Duggan and his team have once again put together an excellent event comprising of 8 stages (4 run twice)all in the scenic Suir Valley, offering up 75 stage kilometres in total. For more information on the event you can follow the Carrick on Suir Motor Club on Facebook and Twitter or just go to the club website @ www.carrickonsuirmotorclub.com
One of the many changes brought into the championship last year was increased media and PR exposure. The new PR team made up of several people instead of just one press officer had received lots of positive feedback for their work in 2015 and the championship will offer even more media coverage this year. Once again the Valvoline Irish National Forest Rally Championship will have dedicated TV Coverage with On The Limit Sports. In 2015 the TV coverage was broadcast over 6 different television networks in over 20 countries and watched by approximately 150,000 viewers per event. Once again we will have dedicated press releases before and after every round and new to 2016 we hope to have live information / media being published and uploaded to our online services at every event.
Also new to the series will be the inclusion of the Tour of the Sperrins Rally organised by the Magherafelt & District Motor Club. Once one of the top Forest Rallies in Northern Ireland and a regular counting round of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship, the Sperrins event changed its preferred surface to tarmac in 2006 and has run as a closed road event for the last 10 years. 2016 will hopefully see a return to such classic forest stages as Moydamlaght, Glenshane, Davagh, Goles, Albrittan and the famous Banagher Stage, which will undoubtly be the most sought after stage of them all.
Another great bonus for competitors taking part in this years championship, is that we will once again be guaranteed a Billy Coleman Award Nomination for the winner of the Junior Championship Category. The Billy Coleman Award, also known as the Motorsport Ireland Yound Rally Driver of the Year Award, is the highest accolade in Irish Motorsport. Not only is this award held in such high esteem across Ireland and right across Europe but also comes with the added bonus of a €50,000 Euro Cheque towards the winners future aspirations in the sport. Last years junior championship winner Patrick O'Brien was selected along with overall champion Josh Moffett, to go through to the final 3 in the 2015 Billy Coleman Award. It was great to see 2 of our championship regulars being recognised by those involved in our countries most prestigious award.
The 2016 Valvoline Motorsport Ireland National Forest Rally Championship Calendar looks like this:
Round 1: 14th February - Willie Loughman Memorial Carrick on Suir Forest Rally
Round 2: 16th April - Moonraker Forest Rally
Round 3: 7th May - Tour of the Sperrins Forest Rally
Round 4: 14th August - Jim Walsh Memorial Cork Forest Rally
Round 5: 3rd September - Lakeland Forest Stages Rally
Round 6: 16th October - Mayo Forest Stages Rally
Round 7: 5th November - Glens of Antrim Forest Rally
For all the latest updates and more information of the Valvoline Irish National Forest Rally Championship please look us up on Facebook or Twitter and even more details are available on our dedicated website @ www.irishforestrally.com
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