For me, it was a trip to the Circuit of Ireland Rally. The Armagh-based event was a round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge for the first time this year, which meant the entry list contained some top international competitors as well as the usual smattering of local talent.
The Circuit was famed in its 1970s and 1980s heyday as an arduous, five-day event that covered the length and breadth of the Emerald Isle. These days it is much more compact in its current format, as dictated by media schedules, regulations and the logistics of closing so many public roads.
But don’t think that the modern, compact version – which was spread over Good Friday and Saturday – lacks challenge for the competing crews. The roads in the Armagh and Lurgan areas are narrow, bumpy and very fast, and some inclement weather made the last few stages even trickier.
The first test for the competitors was a superspecial stage around Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, where the Harland and Wolff shipyard used to be based and where the doomed liner was built. The imposing H&W yellow cranes, nicknamed Samson and Goliath, loomed large over a tight, twisting rally course more akin to a go-kart track.
The crowd at the Titanic Quarter was warmed up by demonstrations from some mouthwatering 1980s cars, such as this Peugeot 405 T16, which previously competed in the Pikes Peak hillclimb in the hands of Ari Vatanen.
Although rallying is supposed to be an against-the-clock sport, the short nature of the Titanic Quarter superspecial meant that the drivers were competing in close proximity to each other. Extra incentive for the chasing driver, but no margin for error for the guy in front…
On Saturday we ventured out to the proper stages courtesy of Skoda UK Motorsport, which had laid on a VW Caravelle to shuttle us deep into the lush Armagh countryside.
How passionate are rally fans on the Emerald Isle? Well, you see plenty of well-kept performance road cars like this beautiful Opel Manta.
Closed-road rally stages leave little room for error. On the stages we watched from, it soon became clear that two drivers – Juho Hänninen and Andreas Mikkelsen, who is pictured above on SS14 – were on a different level of pace to the rest
They pulled away from the pack and waged a private battle for victory, which was eventually decided in Hänninen’s favour when Skoda UK driver Mikkelsen had a half-spin and hit the barriers just two stages from the end. In this picture Hänninen, flanked by the cars of Mikkelsen and third-placed man Jan Kopecky, salutes the crowd at the finish in Armagh.
Did anyone else get up to anything exciting related to motoring during the Easter weekend?