RHD breakthrough gives hope of positive Motorsport Ireland era

It is fair to say Motorsport Ireland survived a troubling storm throughout the country’s rallying lockdown in 2020 and ‘21. A vote of no confidence, a departing president, and genuine concerns about affordability in a world gripped by coronavirus.

Contrary to that negativity, rallying has thrived since its return to Ireland last September. Entry lists are brimming with quality and quantity and spectator numbers are as high as they’ve been for a long, long time.

The appointment of Aiden Harper as Motorsport Ireland President in January was a popular move. Having a president with an abundance of rally knowledge furthered the good feeling surrounding the sport. But it wasn’t long before that good feeling faced a big test.

Leading right-hand-drive crews were disheartened when they couldn’t appear in the main results for February’s Galway International Rally. They were able to score Irish Tarmac Rally Championship points but regulations left them isolated in MI’s National Class 24.

Concerns continued as the regulation change wasn’t in place for Ireland’s next two international rallies – West Cork and Killarney.

However, that all changed when Motorsport Ireland announced on the eve of Killarney’s Rally of the Lakes that right-hand-drive R5s would be classified in the overall results of international rallies.

June’s Donegal International Rally will be the first event to benefit from the change.

It’s great news for rallying in Ireland – more competitors, returning champions, and an easier step to R5 for anyone who fancies a dabble.

In hindsight, one could wonder why frustrations around the delayed regulation change were so intense just over a month ago.

Competitors were wary of actions being dragged out without an impending deadline while fear of the rule change never being implemented was certainly the cause of great frustration.

That fear comes from a perception that has surrounded and overshadowed MI in recent years. However, Motorsport Ireland has now delivered on its right-hand-drive rule change. It deserves credit for getting the change over the line and it surely provides hope for a positive future.

It’s not the only change either with progress being made with the long-debated Class 14 Toyota Starlet issue. Currently, Starlets can only run 2.5-litre engines if that chassis had a 2.5-litre engine present when the higher capacity engines were outlawed.

FIA regional rally regulations are set to come into place for Donegal along with designated refuel zones.

Of course, it’s not all down to MI’s president Aiden Harper but his desire to work with commissions and implement changes is a very welcome attribute to have at the helm.

Now, back to the right-hand-drive R5 story, here is how the regulation change came about and how it affects future international rallies.

Events running under Motorsport Ireland’s national permit have catered for right-hand-drive R5s, running in the same class as their homologated counterparts, for several years. MI was free to alter its national regulations, something that eluded international rallies.

Up to now, Ireland ran two different types of international rally with both variations appearing on the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship calendar.

1. FIA regional rally – rounds of the European Rally Trophy

  • These rallies had to run to FIA regional rally regulations.

2. Non-FIA championship events – Galway and the Rally of the Lakes

  • These rallies ran under Motorsport Ireland’s own regulations.

Motorsport Ireland asked the FIA for waivers on certain parts of the regional rally regulations, like super-rallying after a loop of stages, and also not having a refuel zone.

When the usual waivers were requested ahead of the 2022 West Cork Rally, which was an FIA regional rally, Motorsport Ireland was told that waivers to refuel zone regulations would no longer be granted.

In the end, West Cork couldn’t fulfil the regional rally regulations so it joined Galway and the Rally of the Lakes as non-FIA international rallies.

This complicated the introduction of right-hand-drive R5s into the overall international classification but that is resolved now and here is how it will look.

International rallies in Ireland will run to FIA regional rally regulations which since mid-2020 allow for the participation of both national cars and national licence holders.

This key change now means that national and international cars will appear together in the event classification. Right-hand-drive cars must remain in Class 24 because the international RC2 class is only for homologated cars.

Right-hand-drive R5s lose their homologation as soon as they are converted from left-hand-drive. Proton’s Iriz R5 being the only expectation as it was homologated in right-hand-drive.

So, now that national and international crews are combined, any one of them can compete for overall rally honours. For those fearing that national crews will lose the ability to win “the Donegal National Rally”, a “National Cup” will be added to the international rallies for non Class 24 and 25 cars.

Motorsport Ireland’s resolution seems to be the best possible and while it can sound complicated at least this set of regulations will cover every international rally going forward.

It’s only one piece in a much bigger puzzle but let’s hope the positive changes keep coming. Rallying has already benefitted from MI’s reduced calendar of events this year and now it has right-hand-drive competition to look forward to.

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