It is going to be a busy weekend for Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy members as they prepare to contest four different rallies in four different countries.
BRITISH RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
The British Rally Championship’s penultimate round – the Trackrod Rally – takes place in Yorkshire this weekend and whatever happens there or on the final round in Wales in October it is now certain that Motorsport Ireland competition licence holders will occupy the first three places in the Junior Championship.
Rally Academy member Kyle McBride and his co-driver Liam McIntyre will have the chance to get their Junior BRC title bid back on track in the Dalby Forests.
Kyle White, another MI licence holder, leads the Junior BRC contenders heading into the weekend, but he has elected to skip the Yorkshire round, leaving McBride as the sole contender.
McBride is White’s closest challenger for the title and a simple finish behind the wheel of their Fiesta Rally4 will ensure the race goes to the Cambrian in Wales in late October.
“We will go there and play it smart and play it safe,” said the Donegal-based Ford Fiesta Raly4 driver.
“We might play around with the settings in the car and tyres, sometimes if you are in a big race, you are almost afraid to play with the set-up. We really need to only drive around and get to the finish and see if the championship goes to the Cambrian.”
Third-placed British Junior Championship runners Casey Jay Coleman and his Rally Academy co-driver Lorcan Moore have elected to enter the Clare Rally instead of the Trackrod Rally but they are currently third in the Junior BRC standings.
The rally is also a counting round of the British Historic Rally Championship and Irish co-drivers Gary Nolan and Gary McElhinney compete alongside Adrian Hetherington and Seb Perez respectively.
FIA Rally Star Slovenia
The FIA Rally Star programme moves to Slovenia this weekend.
The initiative gives six drivers and co-drivers, from all over the world, a chance to start on the recognised FIA pyramid of performance that could eventually lead them to the World Rally Championship.
The third round of this feeder series, Rally Nova Gorica, takes place in Slovenia this weekend.
Rally Academy co-driver Ronan Comerford continues his partnership with Oman’s Abdullah Al Tawqi in Ford Fiesta Rally3.
They have already tackled events in San Marino and Austria and will go straight to Estonia and Spain after the Slovenian rally.
"I am very much looking forward to getting back to work with the FIA Rally Star team. The events on our calendar are coming thick and fast from next week. Of course, it has been a little while since the last outing in Austria but preparations have been going on behind the scenes as we prepare for a busy few months,” said the County Armagh man.
“We want to build on our speed and with this our last tarmac event of the calendar, we want to better understand the car on this surface before we go back to Gravel. I am looking forward to further working with Abdullah to coach him into understanding while continuing to learn as a crew. Thank you to the whole Rally Academy team for their continued support and mentoring."
Clare Rally Ireland
There seems to be a massive shift by junior career aspirational drivers into Class 2 and the Clare Rally’s strength and depth confirms this theory.
The leader of the Class 2 category in the Triton Showers National Rally Championship, Ryan McHugh was a winner in Kerry and on the Raven’s Rock earlier this year and he heads the Clare Rally entry list.
Second-placed driver Cian Caldwell, the Sligo Rally winner, has also entered Clare but all eyes will be on Keelan Grogan who has won three of the five rallies he has contested this year including last time out in the ALMC Rally in County Meath in August.
Grogan has already secured a Billy Coleman Award nomination.
Rally Academy driver Dylan Eves is also on the Clare entry list while fellow Donegal man Matthew Boyle, currently in fourth place in the championship is also entered.
Casey Jay Coleman and Rally Academy co-driver Lorcan Moore hope to give their Peugeot 208 Rally4 its tarmac debut in Banner County.
Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy member Aoife Raftery will contest her first Irish National Rally Championship event of the year and will also compete in Class 2 in her Ford Fiesta R2 this weekend.
The class also features some newcomers, Craig Rahill for example has recently made the switch from a Claas 12 Ford Escort to a Fiesta R2.
Kerry driver Mossie Costello will make his Class 2 tarmac debut having already contested a few gravel rallies in his newly acquired Fiesta.
Rally Academy member Jack Brennan, a class winner in the recent Rali Bae Ceredigion in Wales, is also on the entry list in his Rally5 Renault Clio.
One interesting entry comes in the shape of Max Smart and his co-driver Cameron Fair who is best known for his work alongside Jon Armstrong.
South African, Smart, is a member of the FIA Rally Star Programme, like Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy member Ronan Comerford. Although entered in class 11F in his Peugeot 208 it is anticipated he will switch to Class 2 ahead of the rally.
East Belgium Rally
Niall O’Sullivan and Rally Academy co-driver Grace O’Brien head to Belgium this weekend for the fourth round of the Stellantis Cup. – the East Belgium Rally.
They are entered in their Peugeot 208 Rally 4.
Niall is also entered in his home rally, the Clare Stages on Sunday morning and has ambitious plans to return in time for it.
“The priority is Belgium; we are both doing that. It is round four of the Stellantis Cup in Belgium,” said Grace, “It [Clare] is not beyond possibility. Niall is entered to do Clare, but it is not guaranteed obviously.”
Two other Motorsport Ireland crews are also competing in Belgium this weekend which is based in the town of St Vith – the hometown of Hyundai World Rally Team star Thierry Neuville.
Alan Ring is set to make his European Rally debut on Saturday in his BMW M3.
Joining him are fellow BMW M3 crew Donagh Kelly and Rory Kennedy from Donegal.
The 12-stage rally gets underway on Saturday morning.
Bushwhacker Forestry Rally
Meanwhile, in Omagh, County Tyrone, over the weekend, Rally Academy-supported driver Ryan Caldwell was declared the Motorsport Ireland Forestry Rally Champion at the Bushwhacker.
The rally was won by the Rally Academy’s Patrick O’Brien in a Skoda Fabia R5, his third victory on his home event.
Grace O’Brien won class 4 alongside Ruairi Maguire in a Vauxhall Corsa.
Class 2A was dominated by Motorsport Ireland licence holders. Keelan Grogan won the class with Craig Rahill second in what was just a second gravel outing for both drivers.
And in Portugal, Kris Meeke and Ireland’s Brian Hoy won the Rali da Água, the seventh round of the Portuguese Rally Championship in their Hyundai i20 Rally2.
They emerged victorious following a final stage shootout with their Hyundai Portugal teammates Armindo Araújo and Luís Ramalho to take the win by 1.8 seconds. It was Hoy’s first overall win outside of Ireland.
Text By Sean Moriarty