Antrim Castle Gardens will be the majestic setting for the 2016 Circuit of Ireland official Qualifying Stage later this year.
The stage, around the restored 17th century formal gardens and parklands on Thursday 7th April will set the scene for two days of competitive rallying around Counties Antrim and Down on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th April.
The award winning gardens alongside interpretative, community and arts centre Clotworthy House, will reverberate to the sounds of up to 80 rally cars, drivers and co-drivers from 12.30pm outside Clothworthy House, a former stable block and then family home of Viscount Masserene and his descendants.
The new venue continues the Circuit’s tradition of using a significant and historic tourist attraction to kick off the qualifying stage following the highly successful Ulster Folk and Transport Museum qualifying and shakedown sessions in 2014 and 2015.
Organised in partnership with Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, the Thursday 7th April Qualifying Stage will encompass a closed road free practice session in the morning with European Championship priority cars departing from Antrim’s Loughshore car park and travelling on roads in the Tardree area before regrouping at Antrim Castle Gardens at approximately midday.
Following the official Qualifying Start at 12.30pm, cars will leave at one minute intervals from 12.30pm onwards to undertake the competitive qualifying on the roads east of Antrim town then returning to the King’s Hall Belfast Service Park.
Event Director Bobby Willis said: “Our Shakedown and Qualifying stages are hugely important sections of the Circuit as this is the first opportunity for the international competitors to practice before battling for the fastest time and their opportunity to pick their start order for the following day’s competition.
“This also heralds the start of an exciting three day festival of competitive rallying. It’s so important to select a stunning venue of international importance to impress and win over our global visitors and media.
“The Large Parterre and Her Ladyship’s Pleasure Gardens alongside the Yew Tree Pond and the banks of the Sixmilewater river will provide a wonderful scenic backdrop and will, through the coverage of Eurosport and other broadcasters, showcase Historic Antrim as a top tourist attraction worldwide.”
Mayor of Antrim and Newtownabbey, Councillor Thomas Hogg added: “We are delighted that Antrim has been chosen to host the qualifying stage of this prestigious event. This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the outstanding facilities and services available within our Borough.
The Circuit team would also welcome volunteers to help manage each of the stages. Anyone interested can visit the volunteer page www.circuitofireland.net.