Sunderland steps up bid to host rally event

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A MAJOR rally event could soon be heading to Sunderland after drivers showed off their skills at the Sunderland Festival.

Earlier this year, the Echo revealed that Sky Sports F1 pundit Tony Jardine was spearheading a move to bring a stage of the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC) to Wearside.

At the weekend, Herrington Country Park played host to the Sunderland Festival when high-performance rally cars, driven by Britain’s top drivers, tore through the twists and turns of a specially created rally stage.

The mix of rally driving talent appeared to go down well as crowds watched from the park’s amphitheatre.

Mat Smith, 27, from Thirsk, currently second in the BTRDA Championships, threw his Ford Ka around the tight course, while rally champion Miles Johnston, 49, kicked up the dust for passengers and spectators, in his sideways Mitsubishi Evo. A lucky few competition prize-winners enjoyed the rally experience for themselves as passengers in the cars.

Competition winner Giles McCourt, from Sunderland, said: “I couldn’t believe how the drivers did it – aiming at a gatepost at 60mph or 70 mph, then flicking the car to miss it and get through.”

Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “We’re delighted with the day. It captured the spirit of the sport, showing the public and the media what rallying is all about.

“The atmosphere and particularly volunteer support from the North East Motor Clubs was tremendous, and I thank all concerned for a great effort.

“Today the council took another step towards bringing a major motor sport event to the region”.

The council says an established annual rally show would highlight the automotive industry’s importance to the North East’s economy, promote the region through sustained international media coverage and bring substantial economic benefits to the city.