Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean turned plenty of heads with a standout performance on the FIA European Rally Championship-counting Rally Poland at the weekend.
McErlean and co-driver John Rowan arrived in the host town of Mikolajki, in the Masurian Lake District, on the back of an impressive 12th overall on the previous weekend’s World Rally Championship event in Portugal.
It was the first time that the PCRS Rallysport run crew had competed on back-to-back high-profile rallies and the experience gained in Porto was put to immediate good use in Poland.
They ran as high as third overall – in amongst some of the ERC’s most-experienced campaigners for much of Saturday and ended the day in fourth place.
The Hyundai i20 N Rally2 crew started Sunday’s action 1.5sec ahead of Mads Østberg in the battle for fourth, only for a high-speed spin 1.6km from the start of SS13 to drop him to seventh – such is the tight competition in the ERC that one small mistake is severely punished. However, they were more than happy with their performance.
“What an experience,” he said at the finish on Sunday evening.
“To be right in the mix for top positions is a really encouraging sign and so many positives to take away. Sadly we were caught out in a rut in the first stage after service, dropping us out of contention for that fourth place. Really happy with the speed we have shown and the team have done a tremendous job on back-to-back weekends.”
Rally Poland also marked Academy driver Aoife Raftery’s maiden outing in the ERC. Following in the wheel tracks of two of her motorsport heroes, Rosemary Smith, and Criag Breen, the Galwegian finished an impressive 42nd overall. More importantly, the Peugeot 208 Rally 4 driver (also run by PCRS Rallysport) and Welsh co-driver Claire Williams finished seventh (out of 16 starters) in the Junior ERC element of the rally and give her a solid base ahead of next month’s Tet Rally Liepāja which is also run on high-speed gravel roads.
“It's been a great week here in Poland and delighted to get to the finish of an extremely tough event,” she said.
“It had lots of challenges but delighted to be here. A massive thanks to everybody especially the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy and PCRS and my sponsors back home.”
We had a lot of fun that was incredible to see the amount of people on the stages and how fast the stages were.
“We learned a lot and we are really happy with how everything went.
“It was incredible to see the conditions of the roads - they were so fast and in some sections the ruts were so deep, especially in the sandy sections so we needed to be mindful of that as we knew that we were there to try and get a finish in our first European Rally Championship event.”
Irish co-driver Mac Kierans guided Max McRae to 36th overall. The Opel Corsa Rally 4 crew lost a load of time on Saturday with a chronic engine misfire and could well have finished further up the order.
Meanwhile, in Belgium, Rally Academy co-driver Grace O’Brien guided Clare-based driver Niall O’Sullivan to a fourth-place finish in the Stellantis Motorsport Cup BeLux Cup element of the Sezoens Rally. It was the Peugeot 208 Rally 2 crew’s second visit to the Belgian one-make championship this season.
In further good news for the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy, Billy Coleman award winner Eamonn Kelly won the Thomond Rallysprint, the competitive element of Limerick Motor Club’s Greenmount Motorsport Bonanza charity day at Limerick Racecourse.