Who will be crowned the 2023 Irish Tarmac champion? And can anyone stop the Adrien Fourmaux juggernaut in this year’s British Rally Championship? Those two questions – and many more beside – are going to be answered at this weekend’s Modern Tyres Ulster Rally which gets underway from 3pm on Friday with a ceremonial start in the host city of Newry.
Organised and promoted by Northern Ireland Motor Club Ltd, the Ulster Rally is the only event in the UK and Ireland that brings the biggest and the best names in international rallying together in the one place for what promises to be the standout highlight of the province’s sporting calendar.
The closed-road classic has a reputation for attracting rallying’s top talent, including Arti Vatanen, Walter Rohrl, Jari-Matti Latvala, multiple World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier, and Elfyn Evans.
Joining that list for the 46th running of the competition is Adrien Fourmaux, who is dovetailing his commitments with M-Sport Ford in the FIA World Rally Championship’s WRC2 support series with a full programme in the Motorsport UK British Rally Championship. So far, the young Frenchman has been untouchable on gravel and asphalt, chalking up victories on each of the first three rounds in England, Scotland and Belgium respectively alongside Alexandre Coria to top the BRC standings.
This is their first visit to the Ulster but given their experience of competing at the sport’s top level, the expectation is that they will be among the crews challenging for the win. Standing in their way is Garry Pearson and Daniel Barritt, with the Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 team-mates set to provide the main opposition as four-time British Rally Champion Keith Cronin has decided to miss this one.
Fourmaux, however, admits he is surprised at his own victory count so far. “Yes, of course I am,” he says, “because I know how high the level of competition can be in national championships. But it is important to remember the Championship is only three rounds old – it is still very young.”
Fourmaux and Pearson will share the stages with a group of ultra-fast and ultra-successful Rally2 drivers from the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship. Although not in direct competition with their counterparts from the British Rally Championship, bragging rights will be at stake for Josh Moffett (Hyundai i20 Rally2), Meirion Evans (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5), and Callum Devine who is aiming to wrap up a first title in fairy tale fashion by making it victory number five of the 2023 campaign.
Success on the penultimate round in Cork has placed Devine in the book seat, however, with there being points-and-a-half up for grabs over the two legs, reigning Irish Tarmac champion Moffett and last year’s Ulster victor Evans both stand a mathematical chance of spoiling Devine’s party.
Other drivers who could well have a say in the destination of the trophy is Jonathan Greer, James Ford and Robert Barrable in their respective Citroen Racing C3 Rally2 superminis, Cathan McCourt (Ford Fiesta Rally2), and Gareth MacHale (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5) – the son of Austin MacHale.
In Rally4 – a class for turbocharged front-wheel-drive cars – is also well represented. Kyle White, Shane Quinn, Charlie Wright, Letisha Conn and Stephen Waugh have all submitted their entries.
Clerk of the Course Wayne Turkington said: “The entry list reads like a who’s who of the very best local Rally2 talent and the appearance of Adrien Fourmaux only adds to the sense of excitement and anticipation. We are very privileged to be the sole event in the UK or Ireland where drivers from two top-flight international series come together to do battle. On top of that, all the main teams and manufacturers – Volkswagen, Citroen, Hyundai, and M-Sport Ford – are going to be represented so there is going to be a willingness on their part to win this illustrious competition.”
Organisers have previously confirmed that over a third of the competitive mileage for the 2023 instalment of the Modern Tyres Ulster Rally is new to increase the challenge. Across the two legs, crews can expect to face a blend of smooth and fast-flowing rural side roads to bumpy, tight and technical country tracks. And being Northern Ireland, the weather is another factor that could well come into play making tyre choice crucial. “The more I think about it the more I believe that this week’s Ulster Rally has everything competitors and fans could wish for,” added Turkington.
The Friday element is entirely different to 12 months ago. Consisting of one special stage in the Rostrevor area and a second on the outskirts of Banbridge, these are run twice and total 32-miles. At more than twice that competitive distance, Saturday is the longest leg of the entire weekend.
As always, rally goers will have unparalleled access to the cars and the stars at one of two town centre regroups: on the Friday afternoon (5pm) Banbridge Civic Building will provide the backdrop and from midday the following day it is the turn of the Armagh City Hotel to play host to the crews.
Up-to-date information for competitors and fans is available via the Sportity App using password UR2023, whilst a free spectator programme will be released online (www.ulsterrally.com) at the start of rally week.
Modern Tyres Ulster Rally Top Seeds
1 Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5)
2 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Fiesta Rally2)
3 Callum Devine/Noel O’Sullivan (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5)
4 Josh Moffett/Andy Hayes (Hyundai i20 N Rally2)
5 Jonathan Greer/Niall Burns (Citroen C3 Rally2)
6 Robert Barrable/Gordon Noble (Citroen C3 Rally2)
7 Cathan McCourt/TBA (Ford Fiesta Rally2)
8 Desi henry/Paddy Robinson (Citroen C3 Rally2)
9 Euan Thorburn/Keir Beaton (Volkswagen Pol GTI R5)
10 James Ford/Neil Shanks (Citroen C3 Rally2)
To view the full entry list CLICK HERE