Thousands of rally fans are expected to descend upon Dundalk, Banbridge and Newry and the surrounding areas this weekend as the 74th UTV Drive Circuit of Ireland takes to the roads.

There are lots of opportunities for fans to see the high-speed cars during each of the 15 stages of the world's second oldest rally which takes place across 270km of some of the most stunning scenery in Ireland.

The ceremonial start takes place at the Courthouse at Earls Street in Dundalk on Saturday lunchtime with crowds expected to gather to see the cars from around 11am before the first car is waved off at 12.30pm.

The town will be celebrating the start of the event with a Rally Show in the Market Square. Attractions will include face painting, bouncy castles, a Rally Simulator, music and live reports from radio station LMFM.

On Saturday afternoon spectators will be able to see the rally south of Banbridge on roads in areas including Loughbrickland, Creevy, Poyntzpass, Jerrettspass and near Bessbrook.

Drivers on the gruelling two-day event will take a rest break in Solitude Park in Banbridge around 4.30pm on Saturday.

This will provide an opportunity for the public to meet and greet the drivers, view the powerful rally cars as well as seeing the 2010 Dakar winning VW Touareg, on its first visit anywhere in the UK or Ireland. The Touareg will act as a zero car at the event, opening up the road for rally cars.

Later the drivers will embark on an 18-mile marathon night stage which takes place south of Banbridge on Saturday night through the Kingsmill, Tyrone Ditches and Glaskermore areas.

On Sunday the Circuit moves to Newry where stages will take place near Castleblayney and Crossmaglen at Fincairn Hill, Coolcair and Cornoonagh Hill.

Cars will arrive back at Carnbane Industrial estate in Newry in the afternoon before the winner takes to the podium outside Newry Town Hall around 5.15pm.

Roads will close around one hour before the stages are due to start.

Now boasting IRC Supporter Event status, in a major coup for the organisers of the world's second oldest rally, the eyes of the rallying world will be on competitors and organisers this weekend.

The Circuit plays host to a number of championships including the second round of the hotly contested Citroen Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.

"It's going to be a great battle throughout the field, we've got a great entry and we're braced for many thousands of spectators. Like all rallies in Ireland, it's going to be a real challenge because Irish roads aren't like normal Tarmac stages in that they're twisty, bumpy and narrow," said Bobby Willis, Circuit of Ireland event director.