Key role for Ballymena in Circuit of Ireland rally

The 2016 Circuit of Ireland Rally will begin its competitive stages in Mid and East Antrim Borough on Friday, April 8.

Seasoned rally enthusiast John Mulholland (centre) joined Mayor Billy Ashe (right) and Circuit of Ireland Event Director Bobby Willis (Left) to announce that the 2016 Circuit of Ireland Rally will begin its competitive stages in Mid and East Antrim Borough on Friday 8th April.Picture: Press Eye.

Celebrating its 85th year in 2016, the Circuit is one of Northern Ireland‘s top five international sporting events and last year attracted a global audience of 40 million television viewers as well as almost 80,000 spectators – many from overseas.

With entries set to close on 15th March ,drivers will not be disappointed with the number of exciting additions planned for this year.

On Friday April 8, the first competitive stage of the Circuit will get underway close to Larne, moving to the next stage near Ballymena and then onwards to the North Coast.

Ballymena Showgrounds will host an all-important refuel stop at the Showgrounds venue.

These first two crucial stages will set the scene for a packed day of rallying culminating in the Ards Town Centre Stage on that Friday evening.

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, Councillor Billy Ashe said, “It is wonderful that the Circuit of Ireland is starting its competitive stages in the Mid and East Antrim Borough.

“The Circuit of Ireland’s growing international status and partnership with Eurosport will give the Borough wonderful exposure to a global audience.

“It will also be a significant boost to the local economy as thousands of spectators flock to the area,” the Mayor added.

Event Director Bobby Willis said, “We are delighted to work with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. The roads will be hugely exciting and spectators can look forward to seeing rallying at its best.

“Last year, the Circuit of Ireland Rally featured on 81 channels and in 22 markets and I think it’s fantastic that the wonderful landscape of Mid and East Antrim will now be enjoyed by millions of fans around the world as well as the large numbers who will travel here to enjoy that unique Circuit of Ireland experience.”

Veteran rally driver and businessman John Mulholland joined the Mayor and Bobby Willis to mark the announcement. John has rallied across four decades and plan to drive his most recent purchase – an ex-works Skoda Fabia S2000 – driven by current world champion Sebastian Ogier.

John Mulholland said, “The Circuit of Ireland is truly one of the very best rallying events in the world. It is fantastic that the Rally will be incorporating some of the area’s most stunning locations.

“I’ve had the pleasure of competing in the Circuit for over four decades and it just keeps getting better and better.

“For me personally, I’m particularly looking forward to competing in my new Skoda Fabia S2000 and hopefully it will perform well at each of the stages.”

Competitors vying for the title are expected to include European champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Welsh driver Elfyn Evans and Finnish competitor Max Vatanen, son of rallying legend Ari Vatanen. Top French driver Robert Consani as well as local stars Keith Cronin and Alastair Fisher are also set to be on the entry list. Waterford driver Craig Breen, who has two World Rally Championship class titles to his name, aims to return to defend his Circuit title and will be competing with PH Sport Citroen.

This 85th commemorative year for the Circuit of Ireland Rally’s allows the event to further expand and develop its huge international status. The Circuit is part of the prestigious FIA European Rally Championship, the British Rally Championship, the Irish Tarmac Championship series as well as a counting round of the Northern Ireland Rally Championship.

The Rally will take place across County Antrim, County Down and Belfast from 7th – 9th April. For full details on this year’s Circuit of Ireland Rally, visit . Follow on or .