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International Circuit Challenge set to roar into Mid and East Antrim Borough as Ballymena hosts rally

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The International Circuit Challenge, a new event to take place in Northern Ireland in April 2017, has been announced.

Details of the event were revealed at the Autosport International Motor Racing Show in Birmingham.  Event Director Bobby Willis outlined the plans from the British Rally Championship stand in the NEC.

Based in Ballymena and taking place over two days, April 7 and 8, the Circuit Challenge will feature 30 invited drivers in internationally recognised R5 cars. They will tackle eight stages in the Mid and East Antrim areas with the whole event being streamed globally on the internet.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Chief Executive, Anne Donaghy, said she is delighted to work with the International Circuit Challenge event organisers on what will be a new, innovative and exciting rallying event.

She said it will not only be a spectacular rally but will be a showcase for Mid and East Antrim area on a global stage. 

Mid and East Antrim Borough Mayor, Councillor Audrey Wales MBE, said: “The International Circuit Challenge will find a welcome home in Ballymena Showgrounds, which is one of NI’s premier sporting and leisure complexes.   

“I am delighted that an international audience from 130 countries – such as watched live streaming of the event in 2016 – will get the opportunity to see our Borough and some of the many great people that live and work here. 

“I am excited about this new festival delivered in partnership with the International Circuit Challenge and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.”

Event Director Bobby Willis – the man who built the Circuit of Ireland into a top European event – reluctantly had to withdraw the rally from the 2017 European Rally Championship series when guarantees of funding could not be secured before the championship deadline.

But rather than allow the momentum built up over the past eight years to diminish, Willis has stepped in with an innovative event to bridge the gap until the Circuit of Ireland can return in 2018.

“It is regrettable that due to circumstances beyond our control we could not run a European Championship Circuit of Ireland this year however the intention is to be back in 2018,” said Willis.  It is important to keep the team together; to maintain the momentum and it’s always good to try something new. It was also imperative for us to retain the road closing order which enables the Circuit to take place.

“The International Circuit Challenge will consist of two separate stages. Stage one will be tackled twice in the morning and twice again in the afternoon but in the reverse direction.  The format will be the same for day two using a different stage, making a total of eight stages and some 80 miles of competitive driving.

“It promises to be a spectacular event and I’ve already had positive feedback from a number of our leading drivers including the likes of Marty McCormack, Desi Henry, Joe McGonigle and Jonny Greer who all figured strongly on last year’s Circuit of Ireland.  The five-time winner of the Circuit, Derek McGarrity, is also looking forward to the competition.

“In addition, reaction from the British Rally Championship teams has been equally encouraging with Martin Wilkinson of the CA1 Sport team, which ran both the Swedish star Fredrik Ahlin and the former British Champion, David Bogie in the BRC last season, enthusiastically confirming both his star drivers will be entering.  With drivers from England, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and Wales all showing a keen interest I think we can expect a very competitive international field.  Having the British Rally Championship within our entry list in 2016, was a major bonus for the event and we are looking forward to welcoming their drivers back, for this ‘head to head’ competition in 2017.”

The rally will be based at Ballymena Showgrounds and the live TV streaming coverage will be hosted by former World production championship-winning co-driver Trevor Agnew who guided the ground-breaking internet coverage of last year’s Circuit of Ireland.

It was watched in 130 countries from Australia to Azerbaijan, from Brazil to Bahrain, and viewed for just short of an incredible TWO MILLION minutes – that’s more than 33,000 hours.

“Our camera crews have already been out recceing the stages with a view to providing the best possible coverage of the action,” said Willis. “We will also be using drones and in-car cameras as well as end-of-stage interviews with the drivers.

“But all of this is just part of a bigger picture for the International Circuit Challenge and we will be revealing details shortly of the other innovations we have planned for the rally weekend,” he added.

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