top of page

Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy Rally Italia Sardegna Report

McErlean’s never-give-up attitude to the fore in Sardinia

Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean demonstrated a never-give-up attitude throughout the three days of Rally Italia Sardegna. This was his second appearance of the year behind the wheel of the Toksport Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 and the Derry-based driver was hoping to build on his fine second-place finish in Portugal last month.

McErlean and co-driver James Fulton were in the thick of the  WRC2 battle during the first day of action. The new-look event was condensed into just 48 hours with shakedown and 77.82km of competition all taking place on the opening day.

After a gruelling day of four stages without a service halt, the County Cavan Motor Club crew finished in sixth place in the WRC2 category and were less than seven seconds off third place.

“A typically difficult day here in Sardinia so very pleased to make it through largely unscathed, ending the day in a better position than I expected,” said McErlean at the end of Friday’s challenging day. 

“It was all about tyre management though, one tyre was on the canvas heading into the last test so we kept it sensible. A nice road position puts us in a good place for Saturday.”

Saturday was the longest day of the event, with the crews covering 149.00km in the space of 12 hours and without the benefits of a midday service.

McErlean and Fulton started  well on the second morning but a puncture on stage six, the second test of the day cost them over two minutes as they had to stop mid-stage and change the offending wheel.

"We got a puncture. A lot of hard hits in there. Not ideal, we'll try to survive,” he said at the end of the test.

The issue dropped them to 12th in the class but rather than let the disappointment get the better of them they accepted the challenge and set about on an impressive recovery drive.

A string of top four stage times, including going second quickest on stage nine, the 25.33km Monte Lerno - Monti di Ala test, moved them back into the top ten in the WRC2  category at the end of the day.

They started Sunday’s final leg in eighth place in the WRC2 class and 13th overall.

“It's been a day of two halves for us, this morning we struggled with the tyres and this afternoon we showed good pace. It's been enjoyable this afternoon, the stages have been great and we're looking forward to another push tomorrow,” said McErlean at the end of  Saturday’s final stage.

On Sunday they completed the four-stage loop without any issues, maintaining that eighth place in the WRC2 category result and bagging seventh-place points in the WRC2 Challenger section.

However, Saturday’s disappointment ultimately cost them a chance to fight for a podium finish.

“A very demanding rally as we expected but kudos to the Toksport WRT Škoda Motorsport team – it was a flawless job all weekend, and the car has been incredible. Without our issues, a podium fight could have been possible but there are huge positives to take away,” he said at the finish.

William Creighton and Liam Regan suffered a worse fate. A technical issue on the same sixth test that cost McErlean the puncture and the lack of a midday service meant they had to retire for the day.

The M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2 crew returned to action on Sunday morning under SuperRally rules but all hopes of a top result had evaporated.

With nothing left to fight for only the experience of completing the final four-stage leg, they admitted that they were struggling to find a rhythm.

“We were under no illusions that it was going to be a tough rally but Sardinia always seems more difficult every year. Such a rough final loop and although we showed some good pace today, there was no point risking it all,” said Creighton at the finish.

A weekend highlight for Creighton and Regan was setting the third-fastest time in the highly competitive  WRC2 class on stage 15.

Junior WRC driver and Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy members Eamonn Kelly and Conor Mohan also endured a tough rally on demanding roads and in soaring temperatures.

Their rally got off to a difficult start on day one. They drove stage one in road mode in their Ford Fiesta Rally3, with the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy pilot suffering a puncture as well as water temperature problems.

Kelly recovered and started the Saturday leg in fourth place and had been setting top-five Junior World Rally Championship class times early in the day until a puncture scuppered his plans.

The Donegal/Monaghan crew retired on stage eight but they restarted Sunday’s final leg under SuperRally rules.

“It's absolutely gutting to retire on stage eight after something in our steering broke, which put the car off the road, damaging the suspension. It’s even more frustrating as we were only nursing the car through, due to having no spare wheels left as we already had two punctures,” explained Kelly. “It’s just goes to show how rough and challenging this event is. We will restart Sunday and try to finish on a positive note.”

An epic effort by their M-Sport Poland mechanics had the car back in full fettle for Sunday and like Creighton, they continued in the event to gain experience.

However, further technical issues hampered progress on Sunday and they eventually finished 13th in the Junior WRC class.

“I am very relieved to finish this event. It has been very challenging with plenty of highs & lows. We had to nurse the car home with high engine temperatures and a puncture. Still, great to compete here, against stiff competition,” said Kelly.

Tyrone co-driver Aaron Johnston was as high as third overall alongside Takamoto Katsuta before technical gremlins ended their fine run on Saturday.

The Toyota Gazzo Racing crew restarted on Sunday under SuperRally rules where they punched in the top-three overall times – a small consultation for Saturday’s disappointment.

“It's been another ultimately disappointing weekend due to a mechanical issue that forced us out of the event on Saturday when we were third and pushing for a podium finish,” said Johnston. “While disappointed not to have had the opportunity to see that through we can be encouraged by our pace up to that point.”

Next up for the Irish World Rally Championship WRC2  contenders McErlean and Creighton  is Rally Poland from June 27 to 30 while Kelly will return to action in Finland in August.

Test By Sean Moriarty

Photos by M-Sport, Andre Lavadinho, Conor O’Neil, Sean Hassett, and MI Rally Academy



bottom of page