With entrants including a Hollywood A-lister and a Russian glamour model, this year’s Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally is set to be the most star-studded yet!
World famous actor and car enthusiast Idris Elba, who played Nelson Mandela in the film Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom, and Innessa Tushkanova from Moscow, who has been involved in rallying since 2007, will join a list of international and national rally stars to take part in the event.
Whether you’re a die-hard rally fan or looking for some family entertainment this Easter, there will be plenty of opportunities to see the rally action and enjoy the festivities from Thursday to Saturday.
A carnival atmosphere will descend on Belfast City Hall on Thursday from 5pm with Britain’s Got Talent stars, the Innova Irish Dance Company, performing as well as live music from the Ulster Scots Juvenile Pipe Band and theFriendship Brass Band. Over 50 international rally competitors will assemble for the ceremonial start with cars being waved off the start ramp from 7pm.
Twenty nations will be represented when the world-famous event, round three of the prestigious FIA European Rally Championship calendar and the only round of the ERC in the UK and Ireland, kicks off.
They will include top seeded Peugeot Irish international rally driver Craig Breen, second seed Pole Kajetan Kahetanowicz in his Ford Fiesta and French driver Robert Consani, the third seed in his Citroen DS3.
County Fermanagh driver Alastair Fisher, Monaghan brothers Sam and Josh Moffett and Jonny Greer from Belfast are also highly seeded in the international event while seven-time Circuit winner Jimmy McRae and his co-driver Ian Grindrod return to the event, 28 years after they last won it in in 1987.
Circuit of Ireland Event Director Bobby Willis said: “We truly believe that the Circuit of Ireland is making huge strides forward and this year’s fantastic entry list really bodes well for the future of the event.
“As well as our international ERC contenders I’ve been hugely impressed with the national contest entries. Demand was so overwhelming that we had to create a reserve list.
“The event is also growing in popularity with more and more people coming out to enjoy it each year and we are grateful for the support of the DETI Minister, her department and so many of our local councils.
“We’re thrilled to able to offer a full line-up of family entertainment this year for the start, regroups and ceremonial finish which we know creates an amazing atmosphere for fans and a great welcome for rally stars from across Europe.
“We look forward to the many highlights across Easter weekend but as always we would encourage everyone to pay attention to safety information from the marshals to ensure the event is safe and enjoyable for everyone.”
Before the ceremonial opening of the event of Thursday, spectators can catch the Qualifying Stage of the rally at Ballycultra Town at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum from around 12.30pm with the assembly of FIA, ERC and Junior Championship competitors.
The stages take place on Good Friday and Easter Saturday, when there are numerous opportunities to see the rally across counties Down and Antrim.
Down District Council will provide a full programme of entertainment from 10am in Downpatrick on Friday including a bouncy castle, face painters, balloon modellers, live music and a climbing wall. Rally organisers expect large crowds to see off the 140 rally cars at 10.35am. There is also the opportunity to see guest co-driver, country singer Nathan Carter, in the town when he takes to the roads in a rally car around 2.30pm followed by rally competitors arriving in St Patrick’s Square from 3pm.
Last year’s ground-breaking Ards TT stage attracted a record 25,000 people lining the streets of Newtownards and organisers alongside hosts, Ards Borough Council, has confirmed that designated hubs will be created this year to afford even better spectator opportunities as well as a programme of family entertainment. A route of nearly two kilometres will take place starting in the Castlebawn Estate on the east side of the town centre with rally cars starting off just after 6pm on Friday.
World famous actor Idris Elba, who played Nelson Mandela in the film Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom, is competing in the Saturday element of the rally as part of a new Discovery TV series where he pushes himself to the limit on a range of sporting challenges. The Luther and The Wire actor will take to the roads as number 72 with co-driver Michael Orr in a Ford Fiesta.
Large crowds are expected outside Hillsborough Castle to see the star as he crosses the ceremonial ramp at the exit from the regroup there shortly after noon on Saturday.
Then the rally will head to Lisburn, where the Council is sponsoring the Lisburn “Power Stage” of the event, which will see the competitors battle the clock on public roads in the afternoon. But to warm up for the event from noonCastle Gardens will host a free Easter Eggstravaganza of family fun with everything from amusements, donkey rides, crazy golf, a climbing wall and arts and crafts workshops.
Then, from 2pm on Queen’s Road, some of European rally’s biggest names will race through a 1km stage finishing at Lagan Valley Island, which houses the council offices, in a rallying spectacular that will present incredible public viewing opportunities for the thousands of spectators expected.
‘The Cut’ in the heart of Banbridge will host a special rally regroup on Saturday when shoppers and visitors will have the chance to see the convoy of rally drivers, with the first car will arriving in the town just after 4.25pm.
To mark the visit of the Circuit to the town, Banbridge District Council has planned a festival of family fun activities including stilt walkers, jugglers, samba dancers and rally themed performers.
The rally will finish back in Belfast on Saturday evening and the winner will be crowned after 6.15pm at the podium in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, the site of the Service Park and Rally Village.
The Village will welcome over 1,000 competitors and team personnel over a four day period from Wednesday. Members of the public have the opportunity to visit (free of charge), meet drivers and co-drivers and view many of the rally cars ahead of the competitive stages.
From Thursday until Saturday there will be plenty of family entertainment available in the Rally Village when visitors can get a feel for what it’s like to be a pilot by sitting in a Spitfire and 1950s helicopter from the Ulster Aviation Society, while a marquee serving refreshments, a children’s funfair and a rally car simulator for fans to test their skills will also be key attractions!
On Saturday, ahead of the podium finish, the hugely popular Just Adam Band will be performing from 5.30pm while characters from Star Wars will also be at the Rally Village to lend an intergalactic feel to this year’s event!
For up to date information on the 2015 Circuit of Ireland visit www.circuitofireland.net
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