The smiles at the rally finish said it all. After months of preparation, sheer hard graft, and endless enthusiasm, the 2010 McWilliam Park Hotel Mayo Stages Rally had proven to be a resounding success. The sense of satisfaction, tinged no doubt with a hint of relief, was palpable.
From competitors to spectators, officials to local businesses and communities, it seemed nobody had anything but praise for the 2010 running of the Mayo Stages Rally. Aided by perfect rallying weather, the event ran on time with barely a hitch, competitors pushed their cars to the limits over great rallying roads, and the crowds came out in their droves to see the action. Clerk of the course Eamonn Walsh could not keep a grin off his face. Amid all the celebrations and congratulatory handshakes, the Claremorris businessman took a moment to reflect on the enormity of bringing this major sporting event to his home town.
“I suppose when the idea about bringing the rally to Claremorris first came up I jumped at it. It didn’t take us long to establish that there was real enthusiasm in the town to host the rally, and that made us realise that it was a genuine possibility.
“What I didn’t realise was just how much work was involved in running a round of the national rally championship. Although I was clerk of the course for a single stage event a few years ago, this was on a whole different scale entirely. It’s fair to say that the rally has taken over mine and loads of other people’s lives for the past six months.”
With Mayo having a reputation among rally competitors for running a slick, well-organised, event, it was going to be a tough challenge for Walsh and his team to raise the bar to new levels for 2010.
“We were confident that we could run a good rally. There’s a great core of people in Mayo and District Motorsport Club who always row in at the Stages Rally time to help out. But we wanted to try and raise the profile of the event, to bring it more into the community, and to use it to help promote our local area.” Hence initiatives such as the ceremonial start that brought thousands of people into Claremorris town centre on Saturday night to see the leading rally cars and competitors up close. With live music and other attractions such as rally car simulator rides there was a great buzz around town, with many describing the atmosphere as electric. Already there are plans in place for a bigger and better version next year.
Walsh admits that he was taken aback by the level of support across the local business community. “From the start the McWilliam Park Hotel was hugely enthusiastic of what we were trying to do, as were our other main sponsors Costcutters and Supermac’s. In addition we’ve had wonderful support from people such as Claremorris Credit Union, Hillside Service Station, EMP Furniture, P McHugh and Sons Builders, and EPS Mayo. But outside that it’s the support from people like Claremorris Chamber of Commerce and Fáilte Ireland which has helped raise the profile of the event to new levels.”
What matters for the competitors most of all though is good rally stages, and here again it seems Mayo and District Motorsport Club came up trumps. ‘Challenging’ was a common description, while others praised the route layout, with service at the back of the McWilliam Park Hotel only a short distance from the rally stages. “You could tell it was designed by competitors for competitors,” was the comment from one overseas visitor. The RSA Interactive Shuttle also proved to be a big success, with a regular stream of visitors throughout the weekend, while rally headquarters The McWilliam Park Hotel got a unanimous thumbs-up from competitors. Perhaps most telling was the feedback from Norwegian visitor Mads Ostberg. The World rally star had been invited by the event organisers to drive a Ford Escort as a course car. His co-driver for the day was Mark Kilgallon from Kiltimagh, a rally novice who won his seat in a prize raffle. Apparently the Norwegian had a ball, to the extent that he fully plans to come back next year to do the event properly. From a man who competes around the globe against the world’s best, that surely is praise indeed.