2020 is looking set to be an incredibly exciting year for Irish Rallying on the whole, but none more so than in The Woods as the Valvoline Irish Forest Rally Championship looks forward to a bumper new season, a hugely competitor friendly format, a return of some of Irelands best Gravel events as well as a raft of changes to the J1000 category, the ultimate starter Championship for younger drivers.
The Forestry Family has gone from strength to strength over the past number of years, and now the Irish Forestry Championship boasts an unparalleled media and online presence within the sport. Social Media Channels provide live Interviews and Updates at service of every event and gain massive viewership figures, while for 2020 the Irish Forestry Championship will be broadcast worldwide to over 1.3 Million viewers through On The Limit Sports.
Behind the scenes, the Championship has seen a sizeable reshuffle. After years of incredible work and dedication, Ray Fitzpatrick and Ita Doonan have stepped away from the Championship. With the unenviable task of filling the massive boots are Paul Casey and Deirdre Burke. Both have expressed their excitement at the prospect of taking the reins, but also acknowledged the incredibly long-lasting impact that their predecessors have had in shaping the success of Irish Gravel Rallying!
The competitor friendly nature of the championship is clear to see, with a huge incentive for each and every entrant to enjoy the most cost-effective Championship in Ireland. Each event involves no Recce, instead all notes are refined from DVD, has a minimum competitive stage distance of 45 Miles and a set Single Day Entry Fee will be applied right throughout the season.
A massive draw for overseas visitors to the Valvoline Irish Forestry Rally Championship is the proximity of events to Irelands main ports of Dublin and Rosslare, with every Rally HQ accessible with relative ease from the UK and further afield.
The Irish Forestry Championship runs a Reverse Order Seeding policy for 2WD crews that run first on the road, offering the absolute peak conditions to the Clubman and Junior Competitors, while the following 4WD section run in normal seeding order. Of the Seven Championship Rounds, the best Five count towards the Championship Crown, with the two-day Jim Walsh Cork Forest Rally offering a brace of scoring rounds in July.
A huge piece of news for 2020 is the introduction of new regulations in the J1000 Championship which sees the Irish Forest Rally Championship align its Regs with that of the MSA in the UK. As well as that, 2020 will see a movement of age limits, with the Championship becoming available to drivers between 14-18 years of age. The J1000 formula has been an incredible launch pad for some of the brightest talent that Rallying has to offer. Jon Armstrong, from Northern Ireland, began in J1000 in a Nissan Micra, and within six years was competing in the World Rally Championship at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta R5, as well as becoming the 2018 WRC E-Sports World Champion.
For many of the drivers, the J1000 series marks the beginning of their Stage Rally careers. As such, a huge helping hand is extended by the Forestry Family, with plenty of help and guidance along the way. Key to this, and the biggest mentor of all, is the Navigator. While usually a busy role at the best of times inside a car, the Co-Driver in a J1000 car is vital. For the youngest drivers who do not hold a Driving License, the Navigator handles the non-competitive sections of the event that will see the cars on the Public road, such as between stages & on the way to Service Halts. As well as logistical support, Navi’s provide a helping hand in understanding stage timing, technical support and guidance on the various rules of the sport. Each navigator, as a means of offering maximum help, must be reasonably experienced and have completed several events beforehand.
The 2020 Valvoline Irish Forestry Rally Championship Calendar
Round 1: Willie Loughman Memorial Forest Rally – February 16th – Carrick-On-Suir
The traditional Season Opener for quite a while now, the Willie Loughman has a history of technical stages, tight battles and a certain element of playing with the weather gods soo early in the year. Fog, Ice and Sunshine could describe the last three Willie Loughman duels, but that most certainly didn’t slow the pace on the stages. Ten seconds separated the leading pair come the end in 2019, and it could be even tighter in 2020!
This year the event, run by Carrick-on-Suir Motor Club, runs out of a new base within the town, with stages straddling the nearby borders of Kilkenny and Waterford.
Round 2: Limerick Forest Rally – March 1st – Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick.
The 2019 Limerick Forest Rally was brought to a premature end due to what can only be described as a freak Blizzard that engulfed the stages and gave the organisers no option but to call a halt to proceedings with Michael Carbin being declared as winner. This was a real shame, as the stages laid on by Limerick Motor Club looked like some of the best prepared in the country, and the compact route was designed with the crews firmly in mind.
For 2020, the have moved the event base to Abbeyfeale and are promising an incredibly fast, compact and smooth route that should be a real favourite amongst crews.
Round 3: Moonraker Forest Rally – March 28th – Ballyvourney, Co. Cork.
Late March sees the action shift towards the Cork/Kerry Border with the Munster Car Club’s Moonraker Forest Rally, a mainstay of the Irish Forest Rally Championship for quite a long time now. Running earlier in 2020 than its traditional April date, the incredibly fast and flowing stages are a driver favourite, and a real challenge once mixed conditions are thrown into the mix. Cathan McCourt scored his very first victory at the 2019 Moonraker, a huge step on his route to the Championship crown.
Round 4: Sean Conlon Memorial Rally – May 17th – Clonmel, Co.Tipperary
Returning after a five-year absence from the Calendar, the Sean Conlon Memorial Tipperary Forest rally is a real diamond ready to be discovered by a completely new generation of competitors. Steeped in history, the event is ready to once again stand rightfully amongst the best Gravel rallies in Ireland. Based out of Clonmel, the mountainous terrain of South Tipperary will play host to an intriguing duel, with the majority of the leading contenders having never tackled the route before. Located close to the main M8 Motorway from Dublin and the N24 from Rosslare, this is an incredibly easy event to travel to for any overseas crew!
Rounds 5 & 6: Jim Walsh Cork Forest Rally – July 25th/26th – Mallow, Co. Cork
Ireland only Two-Day Gravel Rally, the Jim Walsh Cork Forest rally is certainly set to be a real highlight of the 2020 calendar. Based once more out of Mallow, the tight and compact route belies the incredibly fast, flowing and perfectly surfaced stages that lie within easy reach of the Rally base. With both days counting as Scoring Rounds, this is the real deal for anyone with Championship aspirations.
2019 saw the Cork Motor Club stages lit up by the titanic duel between former winners Sam Moffett and Barry McKenna. Over stage ranging up to 18.5 KM long, only a handful of seconds split the pair at the end of two days, with Moffett claiming the spoils.
Round 7: Bushwhacker Rally – September 26th – Omagh, Co. Tyrone
An ever-present of the Northern Irish rally scene, the Omagh Car Clubs’ Bushwhacker Rally returns to the Valvoline Forest Championship in 2020 after a break of year. The spectacular stages laid on often include plenty of high speed, big-air and spectacular thrills. 2019 saw the arrival of Martynas Samsonas who made quite a memorable impression on the event, although in the end he was quite able to catch Desi Henry. Will Martynas be back in 2020?