Patrick O’Brien says the experience he gained on his FIA European Rally Championship debut was more than he would have picked up during a season of national competition
O’Brien completed the recent Rally Serras de Fafe, Felgueiras, Boticas, Vieira do Minho e Cabeceiras de Basto in 21st position at the wheel of a first-generation Škoda Fabia R5.
It was a rare international start for the 25-year-old, who is set embark on a programme of ERC events in 2023 as part of the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy line-up.
“It’s been like nothing I’d ever seen in my life, it’s been crazy but it’s been a good experience and it’s all about learning so I’m happy enough,” O’Brien said at the completion of his first morning of ERC action, which took place against a backdrop of fog, mud and rain. “What you learn here in a day you wouldn’t learn at home in a year so there’s plenty of learning going on.
“Even just in the driving I’ve learned so much because the length of the stages is unbelievable. If we had more time in the car we could be a lot better because the times weren’t there but it was just a case of getting around and making sure I finished the event. And to be at the finish is an achievement because there were a lot of people parked up on the side of the road.”
O’Brien, who was co-driven by his older brother Stephen, endured a difficult start to his ERC debut when he rolled on the Qualifying Stage.
“The car was perfect after that thanks to the team but rolling at the very start knocked our confidence,” O’Brien said. “We were playing with the set-up a bit after that and trying to learn. It’s been a big, big weekend but I’ve really enjoyed it.”
WRC2 contender Josh McErlean was also competing under the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy banner in Fafe. Driving a Hyundai i20 N Rally2, the 23-year-old set two top 10 stage times but was restricted to 19th position in the final classification due to a damaged tyre on the seventh stage of the rain-hit event.