Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Eamonn Kelly prepared for his second crack at the Junior World Rally Championship by contesting an all-snow rally in Finland over the weekend.
The JWRC gets underway in Sweden in mid-February.
Noted as the World Rally Championship’s only all-snow rally, the Umea-based event requires more preparation than the traditional tarmac and gravel rallies that will populate the calendar later in the season.
As a result, Donegal-based Kelly and his Monaghan-based co-driver Conor Mohan placed an entry for Saturday’s Sorsa Riihimäki Rally, the opening round of the Finnish Rally Championship.
The 103km, nine-stage rally was the perfect way to prepare for Sweden in just under five weeks."
“There is always a great lineup and good competition [in Finland] to benchmark yourself against top Rally3 drivers. These guys are usually at the top end of WRC3 pace,” said Kelly who drove a Ford Fiesta Rally3 car on the rally.
“It was good to get the mileage in the snow.”
“OK, the performance was probably a bit poor on my side which I will happily admit to.”
“I could have driven a lot better but at the same time, this is why we went there and I know there's work to do ahead of Sweden and now luckily, I have five weeks to go and iron out [issues]."
“The one or two stages that we actually did go quite cleanly on we were relatively close to the top guys in Rally3. I still felt like there was more left so that is a positive that I am taking. When I look back on where I was last year in terms of my driving, I still think I have come on a lot, thanks to all the driving I did last year.”
Kelly and Mohan had former JWRC frontrunner Jon Armstrong by their side for the weekend and the Fermanagh man helped them with driver coaching and set-up advice.
“[Jon] was a great help and we tried different things with set-up. We obviously went to the rally as a test and did not necessarily want a result. We were playing around with a lot of different things set-up-wise. so much did not work and so much did and in general it went in the right direction,” added Kelly.
Also on Saturday. Kyle McBride and his co-driver Liam McIntyre collected their trophies for finishing second in last year’s Junior British Rally Championship.
The BRC prizegiving ran alongside Autosport International in Birmingham.
Speaking at the show, McBride hinted that there are even bigger plans in the pipeline for 2024.
“I learned a lot last year and really looking forward to the 2024 season,” he said.
“It is going to be amazing. Some new things happening and it is going to be an incredible season. There are some new adventures along the way so stay tuned to see what is happening.”
Meanwhile, on Friday, Aoife Raftery, the first female driver to be included in the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy, got her season underway at the launch of the Corrib Oil Galway International Rally.
She was recently appointed the Women in Motorsport Ireland ambassador for her home event and the press launch was her first official engagement in her new role.
“I’m delighted to start the year on my home international rally as well as being the Ambassador for Women in Motorsport Ireland,” said the Craughwell-based driver.
Text by Sean Moriarty
Photos And Videos of Eamonn Kelly by Sean Hassett
Photos of Aoife Raftery by Eoin Stapleton