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Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy crews ready for the tarmac challenges of Rome

This weekend’s Rally di Roma Capitale presents a new challenge for Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy drivers contesting the FIA European Rally Championship.

So far this season every round that the Irish drivers and co-drivers have contested have been on a gravel surface, but the Italian rally is the first of three set to run on tarmac.

The Rally Academy is sending two drivers to the rally, which is based in the commune of Fiuggi, to the southeast of central Rome.

Friday night’s opening spectator stage will be run on the grounds of Rome’s famous Colosseum, creating one of the most iconic backdrops for any international rally opener.

Both Rally Academy drivers, Aoife Raftery and Patrick O’Brien will openly admit that their favoured surface is gravel and the switch to a sealed surface presents an additional challenge that they have not experienced on an international level so far this year.

Galway-based Raftery is contesting this year’s FIA Junior European Rally Championship at the wheel of a PCRS Rallysport-prepared Peugeot 208 Rally4.

She prepared for this weekend’s trip to Italy by entering Saturday’s Down Rally in the family’s Ford Fiesta R2. The all-tarmac Northern Irish Rally Championship counting event gave her valuable seat time on asphalt.

“I am really looking forward to Rome,” she said. “It is going to be a challenge and will be good to see our pace against the regular European boys on tarmac. The competition will be very strong, and we have to go into this rally with a very different mindset,” said Raftery.

The Craughwell native has selected fellow Rally Academy member Ronan Comerford as her co-driver for this rally.

“I am looking forward to having Ronan in the car, two Rally Academy members working together,” she added. “Thanks to the Academy for all the hard work, it would not be possible only for all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.”

Comerford has welcomed the chance to compete at FIA European Rally Championship level. This will be his first time competing in a top-flight championship event.

“Of course, I am grateful for the opportunity to get to compete in a European Rally Championship event and to be able to do it alongside another Academy driver will let us connect better with the team and deliver a good result,” said Comerford

"It is a new process I have to adapt to but one I am looking forward to very much and big thanks to the whole Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy team for allowing me to do it."

Brothers Paddy and Stephen O’Brien are another Rally Academy crew on the Rome entry list.

Earlier this year the County Tyrone men tackled Rally Croatia in a PCRS Rallysport Hyundai i20 Rally2 but will use their own Skoda Fabia R5 on this occasion.

“I would say this is my first big tarmac rally in Europe. Everyone will tell you Croatia is a funny rally with its own unique tarmac and circumstances, following the loss of poor Craig were different.

"The grip levels seem high in Rome, so that could make it easier. It is very warm out here at the minute too so there could be big sweats on.”

This is their third FIA European Rally Championship outing this year having previously entered Rally Serras de Fafe in Portugal and the Royal Rally of Scandinavia in Sweden.

“There are a lot more in-car videos and DVDs floating around for this one. There was nothing for Sweden, this has helped me with my preparations,” he added. “We have got a lot of advice and help from Skoda Motorsport too in terms of set-up, so we won’t be learning as we go.”

They will compete with backing from Hankook Tires.

Rally di Roma Capitale gets underway on Friday morning with free practice, qualifying and shakedown in the Fumone area before heading to Rome for the much-anticipated prologue in the Eternal City.

The cars will arrive at the Bocca della Verità around 4:00 pm and from 6:00 pm they will be escorted in groups of 15 by the local police in what has become the inevitable parade through the streets of the centre of the city up to the Colosseum.

Just a stone's throw from the Roman amphitheatre, the 2023 edition of the Rally di Roma Capitale will get underway at 20:00 when competitors will tackle the redesigned “Colle Oppio” special stage, the first timed section of the rally.

The rally will continue on Saturday and Sunday in the Fiuggi and Frusinate areas with another 12 special stages including the very long "Rocca di Cave-Subiaco" at over 32 kilometres scheduled on Saturday and "Santopadre" at over 28 kilometres scheduled for Sunday.

The finish will be in Fiuggi from 6pm on Sunday. The service park and the rally village will all be based in the same town over the weekend.

Text: Sean Moriarty



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