As the dust settles on an incredibly exciting weekend of Tarmac Rallying that centred around the Longford-based Midlands Stages Rally, the weekend will be remembered fondly by championship debutants Keelan Grogan and Jack McKenna, as they both claimed maximum points in their respective 2023 Motorsport Ireland Junior Rally Series classes.
Ireland’s sole Mix-Surface rally series, the MIJRS is quickly becoming a vital step in the development of a host of upcoming and exciting Irish rallying talent and already this season its clear just how close and enthralling the battles are set to be for the 2023 crown with now that we’ve seen the opening rounds on both Gravel and Tar.
In the chase for victory in the Rally4/R2 class and the prize fund that will not only see the winner receive a Training & Coaching program to the value of €15,000 through the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy, but they will also receive a nomination for the 2023 Billy Coleman Award, it was newcomer Keelan Grogan who leaves Longford the happiest after an incredible performance in his Peugeot 208 Rally4.
In a dominant performance that is sure to garner much attention, Grogan would claim the fastest time in the class on six of the Midland Stages Rally’s nine special stages on what was his debut in the newer Peugeot. Behind Grogan, another driver adjusting to brand-new machinery and impressing was Ryan McHugh.
Having risen from a very successful season in the J1600 ranks, the Frosses driver used the 2nd round of the Motorsport Ireland Junior Rally Series to get a first taste of a Ford Fiesta Rally 4, and it didn’t take long for things to click with a stage victory on the final loop crowning a strong performance and 2nd place.
The other two stage victories in Longford would go to Casey-Jay Coleman, who’s third place finish see’s him now sit atop the points table having also competed on the recent Killarney Forestry Rally, the opening round of the series. Things are razor tight in the hunt for the MIJRS honours, and Coleman may rue a costly brush with a ditch when he would finish just 1.6 seconds behind Ryan McHugh.
Another impressive performance in the rise of Cian Caldwell’s career would see him claim fifth place in the MIJRS Rally4/R2 class, but it was Matthew Boyle who would pip Caldwell to fourth place on his first series outing, the pair of Ford Fiesta Rally4’s separated by just 6.2 seconds.
While many will look back on the Midlands Stages Rally will be happy with strong scores on the board soo early in the 2023 series, there will be disappointment certainly for others including Dylan Eves and Shane Quinn who retired on the event and thus missed the opportunity to battle with the pair of other contenders in the class. Similarly, Joseph Kelly would see his day hampered by mechanical issues with the Peugeot.
In the J1600 class, round two saw four new competitors kick off their mixed-surface campaign for 2023, and for Jack McKenna it was a dominant display as six stage victories ensured a maximum points haul, ahead of Joe Browne. Sadly, for Keith O’Connor and Seamus Browne, they would retire on the final loop.
Elsewhere, it was yet another day of learning, development and valuable seat time as the 2022 MIJRS J1000 Champion Jack Brennan scored yet another victory in the Rally5 Class in his Renault Clio. The youngster had spent time between rounds 1 & 2 at a winter Driving School in Norway, and while the skills honed there will likely be invaluable on Gravel rounds in the series, strong performances on sealed surface events are an exciting thing to watch.
The focus for the 2023 Motorsport Ireland Junior Rally Series switches back to loose surface action for Round 3, the Moonraker Forest Rally on April 15th. The Ballyvourney based event is always a favourite on the calendar, and it will see the return of the J1000 class on the event as the sports youngest talent get a second opportunity to score MIJRS points.
Words: Cian Donnellan
2023 Motorsport Ireland Junior Rally Series – Counting Rounds J1000 (Class 21)
Rd 1 - Killarney Forest - 19/02/2023 - Gravel Rd 2 - Moonraker Forest - 15/04/2023 - Gravel Rd 3 - Tipperary Forest - 14/05/2023 - Gravel Rd 4 - Wexford Sprint - 11/06/2023 - Tar Rd 5 - Cork Forest - 20/08/2023 - Gravel Rd 6 - Carrick Sprint - 27/08/2023 – Tar
J1600 (Class 16)/ Rally4 & R2 (Class 2)/ Rally 5 (Class 1)
Rd 1 - Killarney Forest - 19/02/2023 - Gravel Rd 2 - Midland Stages - 05/03/2023 - Tar Rd 3 - Moonraker Forest - 15/04/2023 - Gravel Rd 4 - Tipperary Forest - 14/05/2023 - Gravel Rd 5 - Cavan Stages - 28/05/2023 - Tar Rd 6 - Connacht Stages - 16/07/2023 - Tar Rd 7 - Cork Forest - 20/08/2023 - Gravel Rd 8 - Clare Stages - 24/09/2023 - Tar