Rally Ireland will be on our doorstep this week with a round of the World Rally Championship finally reaching these shores for the first time. This is a great opportunity for rally fans and those with only a fleeting interest in the sport to see the top drivers in the world compete on this tarmac event. Ireland it must be said is certainly big into the sport where second-hand World Rally Cars find good and loving homes. No fewer than 36 of these cars are on the entry list. In the overall standing Marcus Gronholm in his Ford Focus WRC car is leading the championship with Sebastian Leob lying in second place four points adrift in his Citroen C4 WRC. In the manufacturers’ series, Ford only need another five points to be champions, irrespective of the results of Citroen Total. Both series can be won in Ireland; equally, both can remain unresolved until Wales Rally GB. Many of the top drivers on this island will compete in the event with the plethora of World Rally cars certain to thrill traditional rally enthusiasts, but there are some unexpected changes. Kris Meeke is to drive the Subaru used this year by Eugene Donnelly to win the Global Irish Tarmac series. Donnelly will instead drive a Skoda Fabia WRC. The action starts on Thursday with a shakedown stage for the top competitors just outside Sligo. At the shakedown on Thursday the competitors get to complete a short stage in order to finalise the cars set up and make any other changes before the rally commences for real on Friday, the 16 th November. A super special stage will also be run around Stormont buildings in Belfast on Thursday before they head south to Rally HQ in Sligo. On Friday the 16 th November the real action starts with 9 special stages in total being run. The first of these will be held at Geevagh, Sligo which will be repeated (8.05 am & 11.29 am) followed by a stage in Arigna, Roscommon also repeated (8.33 am & 11.57 am). The rally then moves to Sligo where a repeated stage will be held at Lough Gill (9.24 am & 12.48 pm) followed by 3 stages at Glenboy (15.01 pm), Bencroy (15.54 pm) and Drumshambo in Co. Leitrim (16.19 pm). There will be two service halts at Sligo IT between the morning and afternoon stages. The rally travels north on Saturday where six stages will be held around the Fermanagh area before returning to Sligo for the overnight halt before completing the final leg on Sunday in Donegal and Sligo with the final stage near Mullaghmore in Sligo. It important to note that the road will close up to three hours before the start of each stage and that spectators should leave themselves plenty of time in order to park and get to a good viewing point. You should also bear in mind the last three stages on Friday will take place in the afternoon/evening so it would be advisable to bring a torch and also be prepared for wet weather. The organisers say vehicles causing an obstruction will be towed away. Rally Ireland has a road safety message in ‘Keep The Race In Its Place’ and are anxious to promote the road safety issue. People travelling to the event should be conscious of all other road users to ensure the safety of everybody over the weekend. If you want to see the cars close up then you need to get to the Service park which is at Sligo IT for the duration of the weekend. If you’re approaching Sligo from the south, a park-and-ride service will operate from the Retail Park at Carraroe. There will be no parking near the service area. Let’s hope this event is a great success and that it will be back on these shores in 2009.