Ireland. Coming? Are we going? Right now, nobody knows. Except Leo Varadkar. Right now, Leo stands on the verge of becoming every Irish rally fan’s ultimate hero. And there are 15 million reasons for that.
He’s the Taoiseach, the head of the Irish government. Varadkar and his people have the power to bring the World Rally Championship to Ireland. There’s a space and there’s a will to see it happen from the WRC Promoter. Now, it’s just about finding the funding.
On Tuesday, Motorsport Ireland confirmed it couldn’t and wouldn’t chose between hosting a WRC round in Kerry, Limerick or the South-East region (which incorporates the city of Waterford). Instead, it would take all three, with each taking a year of a proposed initial three-year deal with WRC Promoter.
There’s just too much fever, too much passion for rallying to keep it in one place.
I can understand that. Whether it’s the best plan for the future or not, I’m not sure; rallying is equally appreciated in Finland, but the prospect of the 1000 Lakes as it was or Rally Finland in its modern incarnation ever moving away from Jyväskylä is almost unimaginable. The city and its population are a cornerstone of one of the world’s most successful rallies – both in commercial and sporting terms. Anchoring an event in one location isn’t a bad thing.
Conversely, at the height of its power, the RAC Rally regularly moved its starting point and host city around Britain.
We’ve moved away from the main point… Leo, it’s time to do the right thing and put your hand in your pocket.
It’s impossible not to love rallying in Ireland. I’m fortunate enough to have been there a few times. I well remember watching Liam O’Callaghan banging and crackling his Toyota Celica GT-Four through West Cork in the nineties as much as I’ll never forget standing on tip-toes at another 10-deep junction, trying to see Ray Breen’s multi-coloured Metro fly by on a lovely Raven’s Rock Sunday in June.
Moving forward a century and the new millennium delivered a brace of WRC rounds, admittedly cross-border affairs, but it was still the world’s best on the island of Ireland. The 2007 event was good, but opening the season in place of Monte Carlo (the Automobile Club de Monaco had fallen out with the then promoter and taken its crown jewels to the Intercontinental Rally Challenge for three years) in 2009 was special.
Taking the N16 east out of Manorhamilton, I turned right towards a junction on the opening Glenboy stage. It was a dark Friday morning on January 30 15 years ago. And it was a wet one. Wet like, biblically wet.
Beyond the weather, most memorable moment? Niall McShea picking the perfect tire and setting his Proton Satria Neo S2000 third overall behind the Ford Focus RS WRCs of Jari-Matti Latvala and Urmo Aava. Undoubtedly, the rain had eased by the time McShea came through, but who cared? He’d still taken almost a second a mile out of then five-time world champion Sébastien Loeb and his singing and dancing Citroën C4 WRC.
The crowds were both huge and very, very happy.
Ireland’s been gone for too long. For a while, the Emerald Isle’s return was stymied by the fact that Wales was still on the roster. That’s less of a problem these days.
A WRC round wholly within Ireland would be a special thing – especially if it landed in Kerry. Or Limerick. Or the south-east.
The cars and the competition are only part of the story in this part of the world. From Fanad Head and Atlantic Drive at the top to Moll’s Gap in the south, this is a country blessed with some of the finest Tarmac anywhere on the planet.
As well as that, there’s a pint of Guinness waiting for you in the garden at O’Connells in Galway or the most amazing Irish breakfast ahead of a hike through the Wicklow Mountains. Up there, in every direction, Ireland’s at its greenest and most glorious.
It’s little wonder America (via a Travel Weekly poll) just voted Ireland as the best tourism destination in Europe. For the 10th time in succession. It’s that good.
Still not convinced? Then settle in for a night in The Singing Pub in Donegal or Murphy’s in Killarney and listen to the stories. You’ll hear how Billy Coleman, Craig Breen, Ronan Morgan, Paul Nagle and countless other world class Irish drivers and co-drivers ventured out, took on the best of the rest and painted the world green, white and orange.
The time’s right Leo, put your hand in your pocket. You won’t regret it.