Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Eamonn Kelly is amongst a record-breaking entry list for the 2024 Junior World Rally Championship.
On Friday, WRC officials confirmed that 19 crews will take to the start line on next month’s Rally Sweden, the opening round of the five-event series. It is the largest JWRC entry in two decades.
Donegal man Kelly, the outgoing Motorsport Ireland Billy Coleman Award Young Driver of the Year returns to the J-WRC for the second time.
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 his sole victory on only his second WRC rally in Croatia last year.
He and his Monaghan-based co-driver Conor Mohan have been busy preparing behind the scenes for the year ahead.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
The action begins next month on the snow and ice of Sweden (15 – 18 February) before the Tarmac twists of the Croatia Rally (18 – 21 April). Gravel fixtures in Italy (30 May – 2 June), Finland (1 – 4 August) and Greece (5 – 8 September) round out the season.
Up for grabs is a life-changing prize comprising an arrive and drive package to contest four European rounds of the 2025 FIA World Rally Championship in a Ford Fiesta Rally2 car, the natural progression from Junior WRC.
Kelly is following in the wheeltracks of fellow Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy members William Creighton and Liam Regan.
They won the JWRC title last season and will now graduate to a WRC2 programme at the wheel of an M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2.
As part of their prize for winning JWRC in 2023, they will get a fully funded drive on four rounds of the WRC this season. Thanks to the efforts of the Academy’s background team this four-event programme has been increased to seven rallies.
“I am hugely privileged to be continuing this journey with the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy alongside me and representing Ireland on the world stage. I cannot thank them and my partners enough for all their support. I am also delighted to continue my long-term partnership with Liam [Regan], we enjoyed great success together throughout 2023 and are both very excited to get the 2024 season underway,” said Creighton.
“Being part of a world-class team like M-Sport is also very exciting and having collaborated with them for several years in JWRC, I’m confident I’m in the right hands. It is going to be an incredibly special season and I cannot wait to get underway.”
For Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy founder and patron John Coyne, Creighton’s graduation, and Kelly’s inclusion in the JWRC entry list for the second time is clear 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 full year, I’m very encouraged to see the increased participation and engagement of young Irish athletes in all levels of the FIA rally ladder,” said Coyne.
“We keep learning each year and refining the programme as we go. I am happy with our progress to date but there is much to be done as we try to create a path for our best athletes to reach world-level competitiveness.”
Text by Sean Moriarty