Motorsport Ireland’s Rally Academy’s pathway from entry-level rallying to international stardom was presented to the latest crop of Junior 1000 drivers at Mondello Park on Saturday.
Organised with two purposes in mind, Saturday was all about introducing the 2024 Academy intake to its existing members as well as being an information session for the 14–17-year-olds who will tackle the Junior 1000 series that will run alongside the Sligo Pallets Forest Rally Championship.
This pic is by Cian Donnellan
Multi-year Academy member and current Junior World Rally Champion William Creighton was on hand to share his knowledge and experience with the newcomers.
WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
A graduate of a Junior 1000 programme, Creighton announced last week that he is to embark on a seven-round WRC2 programme beginning with next month’s Rally Sweden.
Creighton has enjoyed a dynamic and successful motorsport career. Starting on the racetrack, he became the Ulster Kart champion in 2012 before moving into rallying and the Junior 1000 series, developing into one of the most experienced Junior drivers of the current era.
He would go on to become Junior British Rally Champion before launching onto the world’s stage, tackling three seasons in the hotly contested Junior WRC, before finally clinching the prestigious title with a last-round thriller in Greece at the Acropolis Rally.
His progression up the FIA rally development pyramid was textbook, using the Rally4 to Rally3 ladder to maximum effect.
Creighton believes he has had the proper grounding to enable him to tackle one of the most competitive series in the world.
“I’ve worked hard throughout every stage of my career and progressed up the ranks from national level into the Junior WRC. Each season has been valuable and my time in the Junior WRC was incredible. I learned so much about the sport, my driving, resilience, and attitude. I feel it’s a good time in my career to make the full-time transition to a Rally2 Fiesta,” he said.
Creighton is the latest member of the Rally Academy to clinch a WRC2 deal.
He is following in the wheel-tracks of Josh McErlean who is about to embark on his third season at WRC2 level.
While his schedule for 2024 has yet to be announced it is expected to follow a similar path to last season where he mixed a WRC2 programme with selected top flight European Rally Championship events.
However, confirmed to join Creighton in Sweden is outgoing Billy Coleman award winner Eamonn Kelly.
JUNIOR WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Kelly graduated to the FIA Junior WRC in 2023 having claimed the Junior British Rally Championship title the previous season. A consistent drive earned him victory on only his second WRC rally start in Croatia.
He rounded off the year with a third placed finish in Greece.
He and his Monaghan-based co-driver Conor Mohan have been busy preparing behind the scenes for the year ahead.
Mohan finished third overall in the co-driver’s championship.
“I am really excited to get back for a second time at this championship. It was always going to be a two-year plan and coming into the second year of that is very exciting,” said Kelly.
“This year it is slightly more relaxed in that sense and we have a lot of the groundwork done on these events having done all of them last year. We have been focusing hugely on amending notes from last year and looking at onboard footage and seeing where we can go quicker and where we need to watch ourselves.”
He is not daunted by the prospect of facing 18 of the world’s best young drivers.
“It is going to make for some really exciting racing. I am delighted to be part of that,” he added.
“No doubt it is going to be really tough against some very quick guys but it is really good to be part of a strong field. It will bring the best out of us and everyone else around us. We will have to be on our game at every rally.”
EUROPEAN RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
The ladder of opportunity continues into the Junior European Rally Championship with Kyle McBride confirming over the weekend that he is chasing a deal to enter that series.
Last year’s British Junior Rally Championship runner-up has acquired a Peugeot 208 Rally4 for the season ahead and he will, most certainly be calling on the experience of fellow Academy member Aoife Raferty.
Last year the Craughwell-based driver recorded an impressive debut season in the FIA Junior European Rally Championship by finishing ninth in the series against very strong European-based competition.
She was the first Irish woman to commit to an internationally recognised rally championship since the late and great Rosemary Smith’s exploits in the same competition in the 1970s.
Driving a PCRS Rallysport-prepared Peugeot 208 Rally4 Raftery finished seventh in two European events last year.
She also recorded class wins and podiums in Ireland and Britain as part of a separate programme under the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy banner.
Her programme is yet to be announced but she will be on the start line of her home rally, the Galway International Rally on the first weekend in February.
Current Billy Coleman Award winner Jack Brennan is also awaiting confirmation on his 2024 schedule, but like Raftery, he will be in Galway.
The Kilkenny-based youngster made his international debut last year and recorded two class wins, one each in Rally5 and Rally4 machinery on two rounds of the British Junior Rally Championship late last year.
FOUNDER AND PATRON
For Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy founder and patron John Coyne, the success of the academy’s members is evidence that the programme is both working and capable of operating at the sport’s highest level.
“As the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy enters its fifth year, I’m very encouraged to see the increased participation and engagement of young Irish athletes in all levels of the Motorsport Ireland and FIA rally ladder,” he said.
During Saturday’s briefing the incoming group of Junior 1000 drivers were able to see the direct lineage for their tentative first steps in the sport right to the very top.
“This year we have many new entrants on the first rung with huge interest in Junior 1000, where the Academy will run a series of junior development programs in concert with the Sligo Pallets Forestry Championship organisers,” added Coyne.
“There is a similar large group of participants in R2 and Rally4 cars from the Motorsport Ireland Junior Rally Series through Irish and British national championships and on to ERC Junior. We expect to see our 2024 Academy intake competing here this year. Our multi-year members will be carrying the flag further afield competing in in ERC, JWRC and WRC2.”
Text by Sean Moriarty / Academy day pics and video edits by Andy Walsh and Noelle Horan