There was plenty of Irish interest in the Central European Rally – the penultimate round of the World Rally Championship – over the weekend. The new-for-2023 event was based in Passau, Germany, and featured tarmac stages in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic.
Tyrone co-driver Aaron Johnston was the best of the seven-strong Irish contingent on the event. He guided regular driver Takamoto Katsuta to fifth overall in their Toyota Yaris Rally1. They enjoyed a rally-long battle with Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen and Mikko Markkula and finished just 18 seconds clear of their Finnish rivals.
“It was an incredibly tough weekend but one we grew into, improved throughout and finished strongly,” said Johnston at the finish.
“And not for the first time this season we enjoyed a nip and tuck battle with Teemu Suninen, which kept us on our toes throughout and again went down to the wire.”
“The stages in the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany were a challenge but hugely enjoyable but now we're looking forward to finishing our season on a high in Japan in a few weeks.”
Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean and his Cavan co-driver had to rely on SuperRally rules to get to the finish after their Hyundai i20 Rally2 car developed a mechanical issue on Saturday.
They set consistent top 20 times throughout Thursday and Friday’s opening leg before retiring on Saturday’s second stage.
The Central European Rally brought an end to McErlean and Fulton’s 2023 FIA World and European Championship campaigns.
“We showed some really good pace this weekend and acquired plenty of additional experience and knowledge of the car and driving styles,” said McErlean.
“Real shame about Saturday but can be pleased with what we did. As always, a huge thank you to all the team and our loyal supporters, it has been a proper adventure.”
The Donegal crew of Conor Wilson and Sean Marsh made their World Rally Championship debut at the event.
Although the Ford Fiesta Rally4 crew finished 46th overall and seventh in class, their rally nearly came undone before the event started. The car developed an engine misfire a few days before the rally and their team faced a race against time to get a new unit fitted in time for scrutineering last Thursday.
Eamonn Boland and MJ Morrisey were one of four crews forced to withdraw from the rally due to documentation issues relating to their Citroen C3 Rally2 enforced by German police.
Meanwhile in Bantry at the weekend, several Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy drivers tackled the Fastnet Rally, the final round of the Triton Showers National Rally Championship.
Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy member and outgoing Billy Coleman award winner Eamon Kelly and co-driver Conor Mohan were fourth in their Volkswagen Polo R5 for much of the day.
They were caught out in a last-stage rain shower and slid off the road and into a ditch and retired on the spot.
Former Motorsport Ireland Forestry Rally Championship winner Paddy O’Brien crashed out on the first stage.
Co-driver Eoin Tracey was alongside his father Alan in the family Toyota Corolla but they needed Super Rally rules to get to the finish.
Text by Sean Moriarty