The 2009 Mitsubishi Ralliart Evolution Challenge Ireland will get underway this weekend with the Quality Hotels West Cork Rally, which will count for rounds one and two of the official series for Group N Lancer Evolutions.
Having received high numbers of enquires for regulations and entry information during the winter, only four crews have registered for the first event in the Mitsubishi series, with the current economic downturn having played a part.
“We are around 50 per cent down on numbers from that of last year,” series manager Simon Slade said. “However, I am pleased to report that we do have more teams joining us later in the season.
“It is apparent that the whole sport is suffering from the economic downturn – especially in the homologated classes - and I can understand that competitors do not want to commit to a full season without being confident that their finances are secure enough to see them through. Therefore, to help with this, we are offering a 'pay as you go' scheme, where crews can sign up and pay their entry fee on an event-by-event basis.”
Even with the reduction in numbers, organisers of the series have pledged to continue their commitment to the sport - especially as there will be more crews joining as the season progresses, such as last year's winners in West Cork, Alan Carmichael and co-driver Ivor Lamont.
“There has been some talk that the series was not going to go ahead this year,” Slade continued. “It would be easy just to cancel when things get tough, but we are here for the long term and, together with the continued support from our sponsors, I am delighted to report that we are in a position to go ahead as planned.”
The highest seeded of the four Evolution Challenge entries is the talented local crew of Keith Cronin/Greg Shinnors, who contested last year's UK Evolution Challenge, while Stanley Ballentine - who has recruited local co-driver Donnacha O'Callaghan for this event - will be second away. Next in line are Liam Egan/Colin Harkness, while Thomas White and Robert Murphy complete the field.
The stages on day one will mark the first event of the season, with those stages on day two counting as the second round.