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Josh McErlean a sensational second on Skoda debut in Portugal

Updated: May 15



Josh McErlean delivered a career-best performance on the World Rally Championship Vodafone Rally Portugal by claiming second in WRC2 at the weekend.



Co-driven by James Fulton, Josh challenged strongly for the class victory over the final two days of the three-day event, with the lead swapping back and forth several times before, ending the event in second spot, just three seconds down after 337 kilometres of intense competition.



Watch a 90 second weekend summary:



The Motorsport Rally Academy duo were piloting a Toksport World Rally Team Skoda Motorsport Fabia RS Rally2 for the first time this weekend and quickly got to grips with their new mount, setting a string of ultra-competitive times over the challenging gravel stages of the Porto region of Portugal.


Watch:


Rally de Portugal began on Thursday morning with Shakedown, followed by a 2.94km super-special at Figueira da Foz in the evening. Friday’s challenges were presented across eight stages covering 126.90km and over some of the most demanding roads of the season.



McErlean finished the opening day in fifth place in the WRC2 category. Ahead of him was Jan Solans in a Toyota Yaris Rally2, his Toksport teammates Oliver Solberg and Gus Greensmith and Citroen driver Yohan Rossel.



On day two, Josh kept out of trouble as those around him suffered all sorts of misfortune.


Solberg and Greensmith both hit trouble and Rossel punctured.


Meanwhile, McErlean and Solans found themselves fighting for the category lead.


“It has been a good day,” said McErlean on Saturday evening “We tried to avoid punctures all day, one puncture and the day was over.”

Watch:


The Motorsport Ireland crew moved into the category lead on stage 14 and held it until after stage 16, the 37-kilometre Amarante test. McErlean and Fulton, fearful of punctures in the rough conditions over the second run of the long test, took a cautious approach. Solans used the opportunity to overtake the Irish driver and while both traded stage times over stages 17 and the fan-friendly Superspecial at Lousada, Josh ended the day eight seconds adrift of the Spaniard's Toyota Yaris Rally2.



McErlean promised to go for it on Sunday morning and regained the lead with just two stages left to run. Entering the penultimate test, just 0.1 of a second separated the Irish and Spanish crews. Solans went 6.5 seconds faster on the second last stage leaving McErlean with a mountain to climb over the 11km Fafe stage.


Watch:


McErlean went fastest by 2.9 seconds meaning Solans took the win by 3.2 seconds after a total of nearly four hours of rallying.


“It was a crazy weekend,” Josh said at the finish. “To think we were fighting for a podium never mind the win is just incredible. It was a fantastic battle with Jan all weekend, we tried so hard on the last stage, but it was too much.

Watch:



“A huge thanks to John Coyne and Sean McHugh and all at the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy for believing in me from the very beginning. This WRC2 podium and ninth overall result against the world’s best drivers is another demonstration of the effectiveness of the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy process of selecting and developing top athletes for competition on the world stage".



Fellow Academy athletes and 2023 Junior World Rally champions William Creighton and Liam Regan who stepped up to WRC2 in an M-Sport Fiesta Rally2 for 2024 also competed in Portugal and were running competitively in the top ten in WRC2 before a broken suspension component forced them to retire on Friday afternoon.



They rejoined on Saturday under SuperRally rules and worked their way back up to 23rd overall and 12th in WRC2.




Watch:




Motorsport Ireland licence holder Aaron Johnston, who was co-driving for Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta in WRC1 had been in an opening-day battle for the overall lead. The Toyota Gazzo Racing crew led for much of Friday but were overtaken by team-mates Kalle Rovanpera and Sebastien Ogier – just 3.7 seconds separated the three Toyota drivers ahead of Saturday’s even more demanding route. Unfortunately, a suspension failure caused retirement from third place early on Saturday, rejoining under super rally rules on Sunday to finish 29th overall.




Meanwhile at the Border Counties Rally over the weekend, Eamonn Kelly was placed 6th overall.



‘We could have been higher only for a puncture on SS4, but happy with out times still. It was so enjoyable to drive on gravel again’ said Kelly. 

In other news, click below to read a recent FIAERC article about Jon Armstrong.


Text By Sean Moriarty

Pics by M-sport & Rally Academy

Reels by Toksport/Skoda & M-sport

Event summary edit by Lefthand.ie



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