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Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy crews show determination in the face of adversity in Estonia

Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy crews showed their abilities to overcome adversity to take top-ten finishes in their respective categories at Delfi Rally Estonia over the weekend.

Jon Armstrong and his co-driver Eoin Treacy and Aoife Raftery, partnered by Hannah McKillop, were contesting the fourth round of the FIA European Rally Championship in Tartu.

The already challenging rally was made even more difficult by poor weather conditions. Heavy downpours and thunderstorms meant competing crews were often greeted by deep ruts and rock-strewn roads on the special stages.

The M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2 crew of Armstrong and Treacy were in the thick of a battle for seventh place with former World Rally Championship drivers Mads Ostberg and Hayden Paddon for much of Saturday’s opening leg.

Indeed, Armstrong and Ostberg tied on overall time and shared seventh place after the eighth test of the rally.

“It's good to be fighting with Mads and Paddon, two ex-WRC drivers, so let's see what we can do and keep fighting,” said Armstrong at the end of that test.

However, road conditions were deteriorating as the rain continued. The stages became very rutted and nearly caused the Fermanagh-based driver’s undoing on stage nine.

The ruts were almost like tramlines in places and while entering a high-speed corner the indentation in the road forced the Ford Fiesta off-line and into a cluster of unforgiving trees.

Although the car only suffered cosmetic damage the incident cost valuable time and dropped Armstrong and Treacy to 11th overall. At the same time, his rivals Ostberg and Padden held station in the top six.

Most drivers would have given up but the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy crew decided to dig deep and salvage a result despite the painful setback.

They began a remarkable recovery drive that put them back in the fight with Ostberg and Padden by the finish.

Stage-by-stage they moved back up the leaderboard and after a spirited drive over Sunday’s loop of four stages they found themselves in sixth position overall with Padden and Ostberg just ahead in fifth and fourth.

The never-give-up attitude was further compounded by a thunderstorm that wreaked havoc on the final PowerStage but the Irish crew held their nerve to record their best finish of the season so far.

They leave Estonia in fourth position in the championship – a stark contrast to the potential non-finish they faced on Saturday evening.

“We would have taken sixth with both hands, [on Saturday], especially after the incident,” said Armstrong at the finish.

“OK some people had misfortune on Sunday but we actually earned a lot of those positions on pace. It was really important to get back out today and show some good pace and  to pick up some good points for the championship, it is surprising that we are fourth in the championship.”


Raftery and McKillop had an equally adventurous story to tell at the end of the rally.

They put pre-event practice to good use on Saturday when they changed a punctured wheel in less than two minutes.

The Peugeot 208 Rally4 crew are contesting the Junior element of the FIA European Rally Championship and are continuing to impress with their improvement in pace on each passing event.

They set consistent top-ten class times until their rally nearly came undone on the same stage as Armstrong.

A previous competitor had dislodged a rock and knocked it straight into the racing line of Irish crew’s Peugeot. Unable to avoid the rock, the car suffered a front-right puncture. They elected to stop and change the wheel to prevent further steering and suspension damage.

Ahead of each rally, the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy crew practice what needs to be done in such circumstances. Each crew member has a defined role.

Once the decision is made to stop and change the wheel the plan kicks into action. Raftery manages the wheel-nut gun and jack while McKillop extracts the spare wheel from the boot.

Once the wheel is swapped the co-driver concentrates on securing the damaged wheel in the car while the driver tightens the wheel nuts and drops the jack.

With that task completed, under rally rules, they are not allowed to drive on the special stage again until their harnesses and other safety equipment are fully tied.

From start to finish, the two Irish women completed the entire operation in two minutes.

“Hannah did a fantastic job all weekend on the notes and we worked really strong together especially when we got the puncture and changing it on the stage. We had it practised with the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy so we knew exactly what to do and who was doing what,” said Raftery.

Although the incident cost time they still finished the rally in eighth place in the junior class, their fourth consecutive top-ten finish this season.

“It was a very difficult weekend, conditions varied a lot with the extreme rain, bad ruts and  losing time to stop and change a puncture. There is a lot we can take from a rally like this and use in the future for sure and we have to remember that when we are racing the local guys,” said the Craughwell-based driver.

Their run to the finish was not without incident either. They were caught in the worst of the thunderstorm as they powered their way through the 14th and final test.

“It was a tricky final day. The conditions were difficult but we managed and we learned a lot this rally that we can take forward, especially if we return next year,” she added.

“A massive thank you to the  Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy and the guys at PCRS Rallysport and to all my sponsors for making this happen.”

“The PowerStage was incredible. It was just so slippery so we just took it cautiously to get to the finish.”

Imokilly Gravel Rally

On the home front, several members of the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy contested Saturday’s Imokilly Gravel Rally sprint in East Cork.

Eamonn Kelly and Conor Mohan finished third in a hired Ford Fiesta Rally3  and were using the event to get some gravel rally mileage ahead of Rally Finland, the next round of the Junior World Rally Championship, next month.

Billy Coleman Award winner Jack Brennan was the best of the Academy Rally4 driver. He finished second in class and tenth overall in his Peugeot 208 Rally4.

The class was won by Dean Raftery, brother of Academy member Aoife, in another Peugeot. It was his first gravel rally in seven years.

Cian Caldwell was third in another Peugeot. He and co-driver Laim Egan are preparing for the Grampian Rally in Scotland next month. Allen Treacy, father of Eoin, won his class on the event in the family's Toyota Corolla Twin Cam.

Brennan and Craig Rahill are both entered in Sunday’s Tipperary Stonethrowers Rally in Clonmel, the fifth round of the Triton Showers National Rally Championship.

Ford Fiesta Rally4 driver Rahill is third in the Billy Coleman Award-qualifying Class 2 in the National Championship after five of eight rounds.

Text By Sean Moriarty / Pics by M-Sport, PCRS & Rally Academy



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