Billy Coleman award winner Eamonn Kelly and his co-driver Conor Mohan are to get an opportunity of a lifetime on this weekend’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
The Donegal driver will make his WRC2 debut in the fifth round of the World Rally Championship.
The Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy have selected him to drive the second PCRS Rallysport Hyundai i20 Rally2.
Already this year fellow Academy members William Creighton and Patrick O’Brien have driven this car on the Monte Carlo and Croatian rounds of the WRC.
The opportunity comes on the back of Kelly’s and Mohan’s efforts in Croatia last month where they won the Junior element of that rally.
Kelly recently dedicated his WRC Croatia Rally win to role model and fellow Irishman Craig Breen. Read and watch more about that story here.
Kelly is no stranger to Rally2 machinery after contesting several Irish and British rallies this year and last year in a Volkswagen Polo.
Highlights include finishing third in both the British Rally Championship counting Cambrian Rally in October and third in the Irish National Rally Championship’s Circuit of Munster last June.
Kelly’s teammate in Portugal is full-time Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean.
“It is great that Eamon and Conor are joining the team, It is fantastic the work that the academy is doing to bring these drivers on. It is a big task for them, but I've been trying to help them as much as possible which is why we're here. We all want to push on for the Irish rallying in general and that's what everyone wants. It is sure to be a great weekend.” said McErlean.
He and co-driver John Rowan will return to the WRC for the first time since Monte Carlo in January.
This is McErlean’s third attempt at Portugal and last year he set the fastest stage time on the Porto-Foz test – a first for a WRC2 driver.
“Portugal is one of the most passionate places to go rallying,” he added.
“The people love the sport, so it is always good to go rallying there. From our experience here in the past, it is one of the places I do like to go rallying because you know the road, you know the characteristics and you know what to expect to a certain degree.”
Last year McErlean was co-driven by James Fulton. The Cavan man will be on pacenote duty for Kris Meeke on this occasion.
They have taken over Craig Breen’s entry in the Hyundai Portugal i20 Rally2.
It is a big milestone for Fulton who is competing in his first rally since before the tragic accident and it will be Meeke’s first WRC outing since Rally Spain in 2019.
“It will be strange and emotional but something I needed to do,” said Fulton.
“I need to get back in the car and with everyone's support and support from Craig's family, I am looking forward to the event and I am enjoying being back preparing for an event. I am looking forward to getting back in the car and calling notes and the main thing is to enjoy it.”
Aaron Johnston is another Motorsport Ireland competition licence holder on the Portuguese entry list.
The Tyrone co-driver has welcomed Fulton’s return to the World Rally Championship.
“We are really looking forward to having James back out in the car this weekend. I think it is exactly what Craig would have wanted, and we are all behind James.”
Johnston resumes his long-term partnership with Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta in the Toyota Gazzo Racing entered Yaris Rally1.
They arrive in Portugal on the back of two sixth-place finishes so far this year – Monte Carlo and Croatia.
They were fourth in Portugal last season and hope to go one better this time.
He added: We were so close to grabbing a podium last season so hopefully we can be in the fight this year and go one step higher. The rally is pretty similar to last year so we are feeling comfortable and confident moving into the weekend. We know the stages quite well so hopefully, the weather is dry, and we get a good weekend's racing.”
Rally de Portugal gets underway on Friday morning ahead of 19 special stages in the Porto region.
The rally concludes with the famous Fafe PowerStage on Sunday afternoon.
Photos by Red Bull Content Pool and Sean Mc Hugh