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McErlean just 6.9 seconds off WRC2 podium after opening day of Rally Italia Sardegna with two Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy crews in top 20 



For the second World Rally Championship event in a row, Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy member Josh McErlean and his co-driver James Fulton find themselves in a battle for a WRC2 category podium.


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Rally Italia Sardegna, their second appearance of the year behind the wheel of a Toksport Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, got underway on Friday.



The new-look event is condensed into just 48 hours with shakedown and 77.82km of competition all taking place on the opening day.



After a gruelling day of four stages without a service halt, the County Cavan Motor Club crew are in sixth place in the WRC2  category and less than seven seconds off third place.



Interestingly that third place is held by Spaniards Jan Solans and Rodrigo Sanjuan – the same crew the Irish team battled with on Vodaphone Rally de Portugal earlier this month.


“A typically difficult day here in Sardini, so very pleased to make it through largely unscathed, ending the day in a better position than I expected,” said McErlean who is also fifth in the WRC Challenger Category.


“It was all about tyre management though, one tyre was on the canvas heading into the last test so we kept it sensible. A nice road position puts us in a good place for tomorrow."


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Fellow Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy members William Creighton and Liam Regan are 12th in WRC2  (ninth in the WRC Challenger competition) after the opening day.



The M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2 driver admitted to inadvertently hitting the heated windscreen switch, which caused their M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2 to lose power on the opening stage but like McErlean they too were watching the condition of their tyres.



"It's okay, I just hit the wrong button. It's so rough in there, I'm cringing every time I hit a rock, and it's hard to predict what's coming. We're hitting the bedrock now, which is a test,” said Creighton after stage two. "We were just super cautious trying to get around, everything, you can risk it but you might break something, it is going to be a long weekend." 


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Eamonn Kelly and Conor Mohan are fifth in the junior category after a frustrating day.


An engine temperature warning light came on in their Ford Fiesta Rally3 during the opening stage and they had to run without anti-lag before picking up a puncture later in the test.

An impressive recovery drive was hampered by catching slower cars later in the day and while they currently sit fifth in the class, they are hopeful of getting a time readjustment following the delay.


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Tyrone co-driver Aaron Johnston is in fourth place overall alongside Takamoto Katsuta.

The Toyota Gazzo Racing crew will be happy with their favourable road position heading into day two.


Saturday is the longest day of the event, with the crews needing to cover 149.00km in the space of 12 hours.



Text By Sean Moriarty

Photos by M-Sport, WRC, Conor O'Neil, Sean Hassett & John Coyne 

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