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Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy crews ready for the heat and rough roads of Sardinia

Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy members in the World Rally Championship campaign will face one of their biggest challenges to date on this weekend’s Rally Italia Sardegna.

A total of nine Motorsport Ireland – eight representing the Rally Academy – are set to contest the sixth round of the World Rally Championship.

The crews will tackle ever-changing gravel, gradually revealing unforgiving bedrock calling for delicate tyre management

Long days and high temperatures sometimes exceeding 30 degrees Celsius only add to the challenge, as the crews balance their need for speed alongside the inevitable threats posed by twisty and slippery gravel.

This year’s event will be based in Olbia, the home of Thursday night’s spectator stage on the island’s picturesque east coast. The event’s traditional gravel stages remain the same, including the famous Monte Lerno stage, now extended to an incredible 49.92 kilometres in length making endurance a key feature for both cars and drivers.


Josh McErlean and John Rowan arrive on the Mediterranean Island on the back of two of their best results to date.

This will be their third gravel rally in five weeks and experience gained in Portugal where they finished 12th and second WRC2 Challenger and in last weekend’s European Championship counting Rally Poland where they were challenging for a podium, and this will stand to them this weekend.

“Sardinia is always a proper challenge. This year’s route is quite new compared to last year. It’s rough and tough but we are excited to see what it brings,” said McErlean.

“50km of Monte Lerno will be a big talking point, Saturday is extremely demanding - a solid clean run is our target, build on our momentum over the past two events and push on when we can. The Weather looks to be interesting, it’s the same for everyone - we will work hard during recce and be fully prepared for this spectacular event. It’s fantastic to see so many academy crews on the entry list, the work and effort is outstanding.”

They will be joined in the PCRS Rallysport camp by brothers Patrick and Stephen O’Brien.

The reigning Irish Forestry Rally champion has been nominated to drive the second Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy Hyundai i20 Rally2 this weekend.

Already this year the Academy has helped the Omagh bothers to contest the European Rally Championship’s Fafe Rally in Portugal in their own Skoda Fabia, and they were given the use of the Academy’s Hyundai for April’s Rally Croatia asphalt rally.

Back on their favoured surface and armed with more knowledge on how major international rallies work, O’Brien is looking forward to his Italian challenge and getting behind the wheel of the Hyundai for the second time.

“I will be like a kid in a candy store, I cannot wait to get going,” said Patrick.

“Our preparation for the event has went really well and now we know how the World Rally Championship really works. Sardinia will definitely be a massive challenge with the conditions and the heat, but there are also very fast and flowing sections of stages as well in the rally so it will be fantastic.”

He will test the PCRS Hyundai i20 N Rally2 on Monday morning – his first proper day in the car in gravel set-up.

Junior WRC

Sardinia marks the third round of the Junior World Rally Championship, and, in unprecedented times, an Irish driver has won both opening rounds.

Rally Academy member William Creighton and his co-driver Liam Regan came out on top on the snow and ice of Sweden in February.

The Junior World Rally Championship leader is going to take a “smart” approach to the event, conscious that the rough conditions and heat could lead to a much-unwanted non-finish.

“Sardinia has got a lot of history in the WRC so it's a privilege to go there and fly the flag and be a part of it,” said the Moira-based driver.

“The main aim for us is to go and do the best job that we can but also enjoy it.

“It is going to be a very rough event and I think where we can we're going to have to be smart and try and manage the car and get everything around in one piece.

“It is going to be a big challenge with the heat as well but very much looking forward to it. There is a lot of prep put in by everybody in the Academy and everyone supporting me to get to this position so let's see what we can do.”

Creighton’s teammates Eamonn Kelly and Conor Mohan won the Croatian round.

Billy Coleman award winner Kelly will have the benefit of gravel seat time heading to Italy as he was given the use of the Academy’s Hyundai I20 Rally 2 in Portugal.

“I am really looking forward to starting the first JWRC gravel rally of the year,” said Kelly.

“It's going to be a tough one just like Croatia. It's going to be an endurance event, even more so with the rough gravel. These events will be very much a case of whoever makes the least mistakes. We know that and I think everybody does, but I can't wait just to get back into the car and enjoy the feeling of driving again.

“We will be trying to stay out of trouble, but we certainly don't want to sit by too much as well and cruise around. That's not what it's all about. I'd like to think that Portugal would have helped us to prepare for the element of the rough gravel.


Tyrone co-driver Aaron Johnston will take up his usual position alongside Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta in their Toyota Yaris Rally1.

A simple mechanical issue ended what might have been a good run in Portugal, but the crew have put that behind them and are ready for the challenges of Sardian – especially the 50km Monte Lerno test.

“We are looking forward to the challenge that Sardinia always presents every year and even more so this year with what will probably be the longest stage of the season with the Monte Lerno being 50 KMS.

“We had a really strong weekend in Portugal barring the technical fault that, obviously, was out of everybody's control. But the speed was there, and our times were good so we are feeling good and hopefully we can carry that forward into the weekend and bring home a strong result.”

For this year, the service park moves back from Alghero to Olbia on the island’s northeast coast and the city’s mixed-surface super special stage will again begin the rally on Thursday evening. Friday’s route is headlined by the famous Monte Lerno stage which has more than doubled in length to 49.9 kilometres.

This is preceded by two shorter stages – Tantariles (last run in 2004) and Terranova – to form a loop of three tests to be repeated after midday service in Olbia. Saturday is almost as long in terms of competitive distance with four stages run twice, while Sunday’s route is the same as in 2021 with a pair of repeated stages on the island’s northernmost tip.

Text by: Sean Moriarty. Thanks to Hyundai, RedBull, M-Sport, and Toyota media services for additional information.



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