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Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy founder John Coyne and driver Josh McErlean are going on Safari



Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy founder John Coyne and Academy driver Josh McErlean are to share a Tuthill Porsche 911 in the East African Safari Classic Rally next month.

The East African Safari will run from December 9 to 18. It will cover 4,000 km including 2,100 km of competitive sections on classic Kenyan roads between Nairobi and Mombasa.

The event is open to two-wheel-drive pre-1986 cars and aims to recreate the challenge of the World Rally Championship Safaris of old.


DREAM

While fulfilling a long-held dream for John the event will also satisfy several Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy development objectives. Josh McErlean, an Academy elite athlete and Hyundai Junior Driver is a regular on FIA World and European Championship events at the wheel of the Rally Academy’s Hyundai i20 Rally2.


He will now have the opportunity to learn the unique conditions of rallying in Africa, adding to his growing experience of the diversity of challenges by contesting the World Rally Championship.



It marks another step on his journey towards success at the top of the world rally ladder.


“The Safari rally has been on my bucket list for a long time and I’m really looking forward to it. While the challenge of the varied terrain, the long stages and nine days of non-stop action is daunting,” said Coyne.

“I’m really excited to finally go and do this iconic rally. It’ll be a real challenge and I hope my 73-year-old body can keep up with the determined youngster who lives in my head. The plan is to finish and finish well and enjoy every minute of this unique experience.”



A PROPER ADVENTURE

Derry-based McErlean’s 2023 World Rally Championship campaign drew to a close on the recent Central European Rally. The chance to contest the East African Safari Rally in the off-season was too good to pass up.


McErlean will share the driving duties with Coyne, particularly on the longer sections.


“The journey with John and the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy to date has simply been incredible, the passion and determination shown by this man keeps on amazing us. Nine days of Safari is sure to bring many challenges, long stages, open roads, unpredictable weather, no recce, no notes, with each day’s route only published the night before and the odd animal thrown into the mix, but we will do our best to prepare for what’s to come,” said McErlean.


“I hope with our current experience of World Rally Championship events and my time spent coaching at Below Zero Ice driving in Tuthill Porsche’s, that it will support our efforts on getting through the event cleanly and bring home a top result. It was a real honour to get the call from John, it’s going to be a proper adventure, I’m excited for my first trip to Africa.”



OPPORTUNITY


Rally Academy co-driver Eoin Treacy will also be on hand, embedded in the Tuthill support team, to learn the complexities of the logistics involved in fielding a team of 12 cars in such a long-distance event in a remote and challenging environment, adding to his learning from earlier outings this year co-driving John to strong finishes on Rally Mexico and Rally Finland.


“I'm really looking forward to the trip. It's an amazing event and it will be great to experience Kenya and see such an array of classic rally cars tackling a tough Safari Rally. It's great to get this opportunity with John and Josh as part of the Tuthill Porsche Team,” said the Cork man.


“The event will wrap up a great year with the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy during which I was lucky enough to compete in two world championship rallies and take part in a number of test events.”


Coyne and McErlean will drive a Tuthill-prepared 1975 Porsche 911 in the marathon event.





OTHER IRISH AND INTERESTING ENTRIES


Their car is one of 12 Porsche 911s that the British preparation firm is running in Kenya next month. Tuthill will also run a car for Briton Bonamy Grimes and his co-driver, former Production Cup World Champion Martin Rowe.


Other Irish entries include Donegal’s Gary McElhinney who is on co-driving duty for Andrew Siddal in a Datsun 240Z.


Irish driver Tony Wright will make his third attempt at the Classic Safari in a W.A.M.M. Racing Ford Escort Mk1.


Belgium-based Greek Jourdan Serderidis is also on the entry list in a BMA Autosport Vintage-prepared Porsche 911. His navigator is Josh’s WRC2 rival Grégoire Munster.


THE RALLY


The Classic Safari has its roots in the original East African Safari Rally, which was first held in 1953. It quickly became one of the most prestigious and toughest rallies in the world, attracting top international drivers and teams.


Over the years, the rally has undergone several changes in format and organization. In 2003, the East African Safari Classic Rally was established as a separate event from the WRC Safari Rally to revive the spirit of the original rally and cater to classic car enthusiasts.


The now legendary East African Safari Classic Rally is a nine-day rally covering up to 5,000 kilometres usually through Kenya and Tanzania with teams only being able to compete in pre-1987 vehicles.


The East African Safari Classic rekindles the spirit of the original Safari Rally, which put East Africa on the motorsport map and earned an unassailable reputation as the world's toughest rally. Previous winners of the Classic include legends of Motor Sport including the late Björn Waldegård, Ian Duncan and Stig Blomqvist.


Over nine days the crews will face 4000 km of challenging African bush roads including a total of 2100 km in competitive sections.


The rally will start and finish in Mombasa and will also visit Tanzania after a one-year absence from the Classic route.




Text by Sean Moriarty

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