Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Patrick O’Brien will make his FIA World Rally Championship debut in Croatia in April.
The defending Irish National Forestry Rally champion will drive a PCRS Rallysport Hyundai i20 N Rally2 on the April 20th to 23rd rally which is based in the capital Zagreb.
Patrick O’Brien and his co-driving brother Stephen will be two of eleven Irish competitors competing in the fourth round of the WRC.
Following on from the March announcement that Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean was chosen as a Hyundai Junior driver for the third year, the Rally Academy now plan to run a second Hyundai 120 N Rally2 on selected rounds of the WRC for their up and coming drivers.
Patrick O’Brien drives the car in Croatia and other academy members will be given a similar opportunity throughout the year.
It will be Patrick O’Brien’s second rally at European level. He finished 21st overall on his FIA European Rally Championship debut in Fafe, Portugal in March.
On that occasion, the O’Brien brothers drove their own Skoda Fabia R5 but it was looked after by a mix of their own mechanics and PCRS Rallysport personnel.
“We went to Portugal to get a feel for the big rallies and to work with PCRS and get to know the team,” Patrick explained.
“It is great to see everybody is working towards the one goal. I am looking forward to Croatia, I would not have done a whole lot of tarmac rallying but I have a lot of circuit racing experience from my junior years. It is an unbelievable chance to get to do something like this. It would not be possible without the help and support from everybody in the Academy.”
Josh McErlean will also be tackling Croatia for the first time. He and his Motorsport Ireland co-driver John Rowan have already competed in Rallye Monte Carlo this year in the lead Rally Academy/PCRS Rallysport Hyundai i20 N Rally2 and more WRC outings are planned later in the year.
“It’s going to be quite an exciting challenge, it will be our first time, and a full set of new notes will have to be written on recce,” said McErlean.
“Recce will be very important to us as most guys have done these stages two years in a row. As we know, the weather can play its part in Croatia, there are many variables but it’s about being smart and gaining the mileage and making sure the rhythm comes at the early part of the event so we can get confidence and get up to speed on the technical roads this rally has on offer.”
Junior World Rally Championship leaders, after round one, Sweden, William Creighton and Liam Regan are making their third trip to Croatia. On their last two visits, the Ford Fiesta Rally3 crew finished fifth in the Junior element of the event.
The Rally Academy pair prepared for the second round of the JWRC by tackling the suitably wet West Cork Rally over St Patrick’s weekend. A puncture hampered progress on day one, but they finished a creditable 11th overall on the popular Clonakilty-based rally.
Fellow JWRC contestants Eamon Kelly and Conor Mohan are taking a different approach to their preparation for their first asphalt rally at world level.
They have entered the Croatian National Championship counting Quattro River Rally in Karlovac over the weekend of March 31st and April 2.
Toyota Gazoo Racing co-driver Aaron Johnston will resume his partnership with Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta in their Toyota Yaris Rally1 in Croatia.
Hyundai Motorsport pairing Craig Breen and James Fulton will tackle their second WRC rally of the year with the Germany-based squad bringing the total to 11 Motorsport Ireland licence holders competing in Croatia.
In the meantime they have entered the Rallye Casinos do Algarve, on March 31st to April 2nd, as part of their Portuguese Rally Championship campaign with Hyundai Portugal.