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All roads lead to Rome

Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy competitors had to endure extreme heat and challenging conditions during last weekend’s Rally di Roma Capitale.

Two crews representing the Rally Academy contested the sixth round of the FIA European championship. The rally was based in the commune of Fiuggi, just south of Rome and the Eternal City hosted the opening ceremony and a super special stage on Friday with Rome’s landmark Colosseum providing a stunning backdrop.

Coppa Femminile

Galway’s Aoife Raftery was one of several female drivers to tackle the 13-stage rally in her PCRS Rallysport-prepared Peugeot 208 Rally4.

She is contesting this year’s FIA Junior European Rally Championship and Rally di Roma Capitale was round four of the Hankook-supported series and the first of three rallies in a row to run on tarmac.

Although the Coppa Femminile was won by Italian championship frontrunner Rachele Somaschini who was driving a far more powerful Citroen C3 Rally2 CAR, Raftery found herself in a battle for the runner-up spot.

Throughout the rally, the Craughwell native traded times with multiple Italian regional female champion Sara Cerra, who was driving a similar Peugeot 208 Rally 2.

Sara Cerra, Rachele Somaschini and Aoife Raftery

After 189.50 kilometres of intense competition, sometimes in heat exceeding 40 degrees, just over one minute separated the two drivers with Raftery coming out on top in that particular battle.

As a result, she was the top female driver in a two-wheel drive car as Somaschini was at the wheel of a four-wheel-drive machine.

“Great to get the finish here at Rome, it was a really special event,” said Raftery.
“It was special to be able to drive around the Colosseum. It was a challenging rally with the high temperatures in the car and the new style of roads here, but we had a really good weekend and I learned so much. A really enjoyable rally that we can take a lot from.”

Co-driver and fellow Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy member Ronan Comeford made his FIA European Rally Championship debut alongside Raftery.

“It was cool to have two Motorsport Ireland Academy members in the car for this event with Ronan sitting in.,” she added. “A massive thanks to the boys at PCRS, the Rally Academy and to my sponsors, Sean Fleming Motors, Des Lyons Plant, Loughrea Auto Parts, O’Neill O’Malley Architecture and Quinn’s Hardware for making this happen.”

Antonio Castelo Branco, Ronan Comerford, Aoife Raftery and Nuno Barrela

Comerford described Rally di Roma Capitale as the most challenging of his career so far. He has competed abroad before, but this was his first event FIA international rally, and he had a host of new rules and procedures to learn.

“For sure it has been the most challenging event, both physically and mentally. It has been a huge learning experience for me and thank you to everyone who was supporting us over the weekend.

"Temperatures in the car were high as we dealt with 30–35-degree heat. The event overall was pretty good, especially the opening ceremony in Rome. it was special,” said the County Armagh man who celebrated his 21st birthday on the opening day of the rally.

“I have gained so much from this event and now know what I need to do for future events. Thanks to everyone behind the scenes for trusting me to do it and looking forward to the next outing.”

Rally 2 category

Defending Motorsport Ireland National Forestry Rally Champion Patrick and Stephen O’Brien contested their first major tarmac rally outside of Ireland. They were driving their family-run Skoda Fabia R5 with support from the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy and Hankook Tires.

The Omagh-based brothers finished 22nd overall against a wealth of ERC talent and experience. They did have the honour of running first car on the road during the event’s closing Power Stage near Fiuggi on Sunday evening.

Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy members are now preparing for the next round of the FIA European Rally Championship, the Barum Rally Zlin in the Czech Republic in mid-August.

Text by Sean Moriarty



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