Motorsport Ireland’s Rally Academy members return to the FIA World Rally Championship this weekend after the extended summer break.
Rally Estonia marks the first European WRC round Since Rally Sardinia in June.
There are five crews with Irish representation at the event – three of them representing the Rally Academy.
And one of them could be a World Rally Champion.
While drivers in the main categories of the World Rally Championship headed off to Kenya in June for the Safari Rally, Academy members kept themselves busy by participating in FIA European Rally Championship events.
WRC 2 Challenger
Since Sardinia Josh McErlean has contested both Rally Liepja in Lativa and the Royal Rally of Scandinavia in Sweden. He and co-driver James Fulton set top ten times in both events, their best overall result coming in Latvia where they finished fourth.
Both European Championship rallies were run on roads broadly similar to what can be expected in Estonia this week and the knowledge and data gathered in both countries will serve them well.
“By doing these events and getting full mileage in, I’m learning and getting the benefit from it. The past three or four rallies, also in the WRC, have been very solid as well. We want to keep this momentum going as everyone would, keep on improving the pace because these top boys are a bit out of the way yet,” said the County Derry-based driver.
Estonia is a happy hunting ground for McErlean and Fulton. Last year they finished third in the WRC 2 Junior category in a similar PCRS Rallysport-prepared Hyundai i20 Coupe Rally2 car.
JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Rally Academy driver William Creighton arrives in Latvia are the leader of the Junior WRC.
He could win the title with one round to spare but that will depend on many factors going his way.
“Maybe if nobody else finishes the rally but I am looking forward to the event. It’s high speed with a lot of jumps and crests over corners so it’s pretty exciting, I’m looking forward to It,” said the County Down driver.
“The championship has been good, if you would have told me at the start of the year that we’d be leading at any point, we’d have taken it. To have a bit of a points gap is nice, but there’s a long way to go and a lot of points up for grabs. We are still taking it rally by rally and just aiming to get as many points as we can. Diego Dominguez and Laurent Pellier are the guys to look out for right now, so for me, it’s a case of decide your strategy for the rally as it goes on and where your championship rivals are.”
Like his Rally Academy teammates, Creighton and his co-driver Liam Regan participated in the Swedish event with the M-Sport Poland team.
A double puncture on the opening day did not stop them from winning the Rally 3 class there, but importantly, they will be able to apply knowledge learned in Sweden to the fast Estonian roads.
Billy Coleman Award winner Eamonn Kelly and his co-driver Conor Mohan are the second Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy crew contesting this year’s JWRC.
They also contested the ERC Latvian event in preparation for Estonia. They are currently sixth in the championship standings after three of the five rounds but 2023 was always going to be a learning year for the young Donegal/Monaghan team.
“The season so far has been up and down, we have shown speed in places and then like anything when it’s learning you make mistakes in other places,” said the Donegal man.
“We have taken a lot away from every rally and we’ve tried to build it into the second half of the season. It’s a clean slate in Estonia but it’s really, really fast and hopefully, we can show some more of that speed that we’ve shown but ultimately it will have to be fairly flat out.”
Joining the Academy crews in Estonia is WRC debutant Brendan Cumiskey. The Ford Fiesta Rally3 driver has the vastly experienced Arthur Kierans alongside.
The Irish contingent is led, as ever, by co-driver Aaron Johnson who continues his partnership with Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta.
Text: Sean Moriarty