As the vintage cars get dusted off and the brass bands put in one final practice, it is hard not to notice that our national weekend, St Patrick’s Day is fast approaching. And anyone who has the vaguest of interest in motorsport would know that it also signals the arrival of the West Cork Rally.
In recent years of its history, the West Cork Rally has been welcomed to the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship as a counting round, and fitted nicely into the calendar.
With the Galway International being a non-runner, eyes are now on Clonakilty as it is tasked with the added honour of raising the flag of the 2018 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
It will be an enjoyable weekend, as it always is, but there is an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed.
There is a large, title sponsor sized hole in this years championship. One that was supposedly to be filled by a music act.
From the announcement under the cover of darkness there was always a cloud of curiosity over the potential sponsor. It did not take long for questions to be asked about the “carefully planned” announcement via Twitter at almost 1am, and it was via “the necessary evil” of Twitter that most of the discussion took place.
From confrontation with journalists, competitors and fans of the sport, it seemed like a nightmare was about to unfold before our very eyes. The sport had lost a counting round of the championship and had appeared to have gone into self destruct mode.
Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months as various half-baked sales pitches of media hubs, brand ambassadors, launch events and streaming services were reiterated whenever pressure for updates was received.
We were promised a two-car team in the latest R5 machinery and “glamping” at events when there hadn’t been any solid proof that we would have a championship at all.
Patience wore thin very quickly.
While the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship made a comment weeks after the social media sites had been debranded and rumours spread, the other party of the contract has chosen to remain in what they call a dignified silence.
There needs to be questions answered as to who was responsible for the negotiations, and who let the debacle so far before eventually ending. It looks like it was a short term loss but a long term gain in cutting ties, but with it falling apart in the way it did, it would be unjust to forget about it. There must be someone putting their hand up and admitting to the mistake. With rumours and hearsay being passed around, clarification is needed, as is the person or people involved to put their hands up and admit fault.
If we don’t get that, what does that say about the respect they have for the competitors and fans. On numerous occasions I was told of competitors who were put off by comments made by the title sponsor to be, and they had their doubts about their continued support of the championship and the longevity of the championship itself. Fans and commentators online voiced their concerns, not in malicious acts, but in honest attempts of receiving information about our premier championship.
Despite the ranting, it seems like we have weathered the storm and come out the other side. The championship is going ahead as usual, albeit after a false start. We have a familiar face in Clonakilty Blackpudding playing a supportive role once again, as well as Michelin who will also act as associate sponsors.
We are also fortunate that individual rallies were able to rely on media outside of the supposed media-house, to provide continued coverage of our sport and allow the show to go on.
Going by this news and the competitive line up expected in West Cork, it looks like the worst might be over, and you could almost go as far as to say it will follow up nicely to the brilliant 2017 season.
Just like the weekend of national celebration we have ahead of us, we should celebrate our sport, celebrate the strength of committees that could see through the trouble, competitors who found the budget to entertain us, the fans who will line the hedgerows. These are the people who knew we have a good thing in Irish rallying. Celebrate it while you can, because you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s almost gone.