Entries for this year's Circuit of Ireland Rally officially open today (Friday 12th February), with organisers expecting an influx of entries for both the International and National events, including some of the world's top names in rallying.
Competitors vying for the title are expected to include European champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz, last year's winner Craig Breen, Welsh driver Elfyn Evans, young Finnish competitor Max Vatanen and top French driver Robert Consani as well as local stars Keith Cronin and Alastair Fisher.
Craig Breen is expected to defend his title. The 26 year old Irish driver already has two World Rally Championship class titles to his name and will be competing with PH Sport Citroen.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz was the 2015 FIA European Rally Champion as well as last year's FIA ERC Gravel Master and FIA ERC Ice Master. He was also Poland Champion four consecutive years from 2010 - 2014.
Welsh driver Elfyn Evans is also in championship contention. Last month, he and his co-driver Craig Parry secured an epic victory in the WRC 2 Category at the Rallye Monte-Carlo in spite of two punctures.
Three-time British Rally Championship winner Keith Cronin, who is from West Cork, is also set to compete at this year's Circuit. Keith first competed in the World Rally Championship in 2013 and has been tipped as one to watch. County Tyrone driver Alastair Fisher, the nephew of the late Bertie Fisher who was a three-time winner of the event, will be hoping to follow in his late uncle's success. Alastair recently secured second place in the Galway Rally.
The 2016 Circuit of Ireland builds on last year's hugely successful Rally which enjoyed a record number of entries as well as spectator numbers increasing by 7% to 78,000. It's also more than doubled its global television audience from 15 million to 40 million.
Event Director Bobby Willis said he was looking forward to welcoming local and international competitors to this year's Circuit of Ireland; “In 2015, we had a record number of entries which spanned 20 nations worldwide and we hope to build on that success. It has been wonderful to see the Rally attracting growing international interest and we fully expect the sport's best drivers to be competing in this year's event. Spectators can look forward to outstanding rallying from some of the top names in the sport.”
Now in its 85th year, the Circuit of Ireland Rally's international status has grown significantly in recent years. The Circuit is now part of the prestigious FIA European Rally Championship and also features in the British Rally Championship, the Irish Tarmac Championship series and the Northern Ireland Rally Championship.
The Rally will take place across County Down, County Antrim and Belfast from 7th - 9th April.
Entries for the 2016 Circuit of Ireland close on Tuesday 15th March.