The capacity entry of 150 crews are currently making their final preparations for the 2004 Killarney Historic Stages Rally, in association with Failte Ireland, which gets underway at 8am tomorrow morning. Friday and Saturday are given over to Reconnaissance (Pace Note making), before the real action starts on Sunday, with a route of 180 miles awaiting competitors in this unique event. The Killarney Historic Stages Rally, organised and promoted by Killarney & District Motor Club, remains the only such event in this country, catering exclusively for Historic (Pre-1968), Post-Historic (1968-'74) and Classic (1975-'79) cars. This will be the eighth running of the rally.
Dessie Nutt is already a five time winner of the Killarney Historic Stages Rally, and the Derry driver will be attempting to further extend his record of success in his Porsche 911, the exact same car in which he secured each of his previous victories. His closest rivals are likely to be Boston-resident Galwayman, Frank Cunningham, and Fermanagh's Mervyn Johnston, both piloting Mini Coopers.
Scotland's Jimmy McRae, a five times victor on the Circuit of Ireland and former winner of both the Irish Tarmac Championship and the British Open Championship, will be the top seed in the Post-Historic category, for cars built between 1968 and 1974. He will drive a Porsche 911, prepared by Francis Tuthill Motorsport and sponsored by Remax Properties, Killarney & Kenmare; Porsche Centre Dublin and Vodka Kick.
"I thoroughly enjoyed the rally last year despite retiring on the last stage", says McRae. "The rally has such a good format with classic stages, and it is a very sociable event. Hence the reason I'm back to take part again this year". Navan's John Farrell is expected to be one of McRae's strongest challengers for Post-Historic honours, having won the category twice in the past. Farrell drives a Mark 1 Ford Escort RS2000.
The Classic category sees Millstreet's John Moynihan return to defend his crown in a Mark 2 Ford Escort RS. His opposition will include the 2003 Billy Coleman Award winner, Dessie Keenan, who returns to his rear-wheel drive roots this weekend with another Mark 2 Escort, having spent 2004 in control of a four wheel drive Group N Mitsubishi Lancer - the Monaghan man won this year's Irish Tarmac Group N Championship.
The 2004 Killarney Historic Stages Rally will be sponsored by Failte Ireland, marking the first occasion that the Tourist Board has been involved with this branch of motorsport. Speaking before this weekend's event, Ciara Gallagher, Sports Tourism Officer with Failte Ireland, said: "Failte Ireland are delighted to support the Killarney Historic Stages Rally through the International Sports Tourism Initiative.
"Failte Ireland's focuses on assisting sporting events that have the potential to grow while also achieving economic regional tourism benefits and the opportunity to showcase the regions and special interest activities of Ireland. The Killarney Historic Stages Rally most certainly fits this bill.
"We would like to extend a warm Irish welcome to the 400 overseas visitors expected over the weekend who will no doubt enjoy the stunning backdrop and a most exciting and competitive race".
Randles Hotels, Kerry & West Cork, (proprietors of the Dromhall Hotel, venue of the rally's Headquarters), are also sponsoring the 2004 Killarney Historic Stages Rally, as are EPS Bison Environmental Products Division; McAuliffe Developments; O'Leary's Expert Electrical, Killarney; Moriarty's Londis, Farranfore and Killarney Crystal.
For families and others who may not be in a position to watch the stages of the rally, there will be an opportunity to see the competing cars and their crews when they return to the Finish Ramp at Randles Bros. Garage on Killarney's Muckross Road at 4.37pm on Sunday evening.