Friday, 30th January, 2009
The first round of the 2009 World Rally Championship started off as it had finished in 2008 with the current and five-time World Rally Champion, Sebastien Loeb building up an assailable 40-second lead in his Citroen C4 car. His nearest competitor was Citroen Total World Rally Team team-mate and fellow tarmac specialist, Dani Sordo. Ford’s young Finnish driver, Mikko Hirvonen finished the day in third position. Although the weather was wet and windy throughout the day, it in no way damped the enthusiasm of the hoards of spectators, but it did cause the cancellation of the two night stages. My day started at 7 o’clock in the morning when I travelled with Jonathan (photographer) and Paul (journalist) to Sligo’s media centre and Rally Ireland’s head quarters. This gave me the opportunity to mingle with and chat to a number of print and broadcast journalists who were reporting on the rally. For part of the day, we publicised the Pacenotes brand by distributing free issues of the magazine and talking to rally fans that had travelled from all corners of the emerald isle, and indeed Europe.
- World Rally highlights – Rally Ireland Day 1
Saturday, 31st January, 2009
As Rally Ireland is a cross-border event that is run in Northern and Southern Ireland, competitors travelled to Enniskillen to complete two loops of the day’s six stages, comprising of Sloughan Glen, Ballinamallard and Tempo. It was another early morning rise, with the first car due on stage at approximately 08.13am. We planned to travel to the final stage of the day, Super Special Stage 14, Tempo 2, but between times we travelled back to Rally HQ in Sligo once again. I was asked by Pacenotes editor, Simon Mooney to conduct six voxpops for next month’s issue of the magazine, but the highlight of my day and as a journalist to date would soon follow. When the drivers arrive back in Parc Ferme, they have to sign in for time control – an area where the press can talk to and interview rally drivers. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to ask questions that were pertinent to me, but more importantly Pacenote’s readership, as World Rallying is currently going through one of its biggest transitions in a decade. I spoke with Sebastien Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen, Jari Matti-Latvala and Niall McShea, the latter of whom was competing in an all-new Super 2000 Proton rally car. Based on these interviews, I was able to type-up a news feature and a hard news story on the coming WRC season and the imminent changes facing the sport. These will feature in next month’s edition of the rally magazine. Back to the rallying, and Sebastien Loeb continued his domination of the event, winning all of the day’s stages and increasing his lead over Spaniard Sordo to more than a minute. Hirvonen held on to third position.
- World Rally highlights – Rally Ireland Day 2
Sunday, 1st February, 2009
The third and final day of Rally Ireland moved to Donegal on the West coast of the island. A new 1.5Km stage concluded the event that weaved in and around Donegal town – a place synonymous for and a mecca with all rally fans. Frenchman, Sebastien Loeb rounded off a fantastic weekend by claiming ten precious points with last year’s Championship runner-up, Mikko Hirvonen of the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team finishing in third position. Although Sunday was relatively dry in comparison to the previous two days, drivers encountered some of the worst conditions to ever grace the World Rally Championship. The inaugural round of the 2009 season caught some of the biggest names in the sport unawares. Citroen’s Junior Team driver, Australian Chris Atkinson had a massive off on Day 1 when he approached a fast right hand bend, lost control, mounted a verge and came to blows with a telegraph pole. And Zimbabwean, Conrad Rautenbach aquaplaned into a ditch on Saturday’s stages, sustaining significant damage as a result. The highest placed ‘local’ driver was Irishman, Eamonn Boland who finished ninth in his Subaru Impreza S12B WRC car while Gary Jennings was the highest placed Ulsterman, finishing 15th overall in his Group N Mitsubishi Evolution IX car. Rally Ireland also hosted the first round of the Junior World Rally Championship, with young German, Aaron Burkart securing his first career win in his Suzuki Swift Super 1600 with a comfortable 1minute 27second advantage over second placed Citroen driver, Martin Prokop.
- World Rally highlights – Rally Ireland Day 3
Rally Ireland is only one of two sealed surface events to feature in the 2009 World Rally Calendar, with Rally Spain in October being the other in somewhat more predictable climates. Rally Ireland will return to the emerald isle once again in 2011.