Now just a single day event in the hills of Davagh, the Circuit of Ireland has lost some of its charm, but on the stages, the action was as hot as ever with crews battling it out for victory at round three of the 2023 Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
At one point in time, the 'Circuit' was the premiere motorsport event in Ireland. A true marathon of a rally, it was a test of reliability for the cars and mind, heart and skill for the crews. Win it and you were immediately lauded as a hero.
For example, take the 1986 event. After 5 days, 938 competitive kilometres and 51 stages, teams had toured the entirety of the country, visiting Dublin, Cork, the midlands and most of northern Ireland before ending up back where they had started in Belfast.
938km. Mental stuff.
Fast forward 37 years and the Circuit of Ireland is now 8 stages long and just 109km of high intensity action. It really has been some fall from grace.
There are many reasons for this and many reasons why a 5 day event is no longer even remotely possible. But has the entry list, level of machinery and quality of driving been affected? Absolutely not.
Thanks to my recent knee surgery, my COI experience was limited so when I arrived at SS3, part of the second loop, the pace was absolutely electric. Tricky, tight stages filled with bumps and crests made the rally very unpredictable but from the off Callum Devine had settled into a rhythm in his R5 Polo, building a slim advantage over the i20 R5 of Josh Moffett.
And it was a lead Devine would maintain throughout the day while others battled it out behind him. Well known names such as Frank Kelly and Declan Boyle would get caught out by the uncertainty of the stages and end in spectacular accidents.
For me, the 'Circuit' was a test of my physical condition and to get me in the mood for a full weekend in Killarney at the Rally of the Lakes at the end of the month. The route for that one looks absolutely epic so I cannot wait to make the trip down.
Event: Circuit of Ireland 2023