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William Creighton takes second Junior WRC win of the season to extend championship lead 

For the third World Rally Championship event in a row, a Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver has emerged as a rally winner.

William Creighton took his second win of the season on last weekend’s Rally Italia and now holds an impressive 32-point lead in the title race.

He was one of nine Motorsport Ireland licence holders to tackle the sixth round of the World Rally Championship.

The Moira-based driver and co-driver Liam Regan added to their previous victory in Sweden, but the Italian victory was hard-earned.

The Sardinia-based rally was one of the most difficult of the season so far, changeable weather conditions and extremely rough roads made it one of the most demanding rallies of the season so far.

The Irish crew kicked off their event with an opening super special stage win in the centre of Olbia. The first pass of the daunting 50km-Monte Lerno stage lived up to its expectations as Creighton lost time due to punctures.

The second pass of Monte Lerno proved to be even more dramatic, with every single Junior WRC crew stopping on the stage at least once. After all the drama unfolded, the fight swung in Creighton’s favour who ended Friday with a 50-second lead over Diego Dominguez.

Heavy rain swept across Saturday afternoon’s stages setting Junior WRC up for more challenges. Dominguez took ten seconds out of Creighton’s lead on stage 12, taking a stage win in the process as Creighton’s fortunes turned on stage 13.

The Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver had to change a puncture and lost a minute to Dominguez while Laurent Pellier closed to within two minutes of the leader after starting the day five minutes adrift.

Following his trouble, Creighton launched a counter through stage 14, eclipsing Dominguez by over one minute to retake the lead.

Heavy rain made an appearance once again for the final stage of the rally, which eventually saw the cancellation of the stage. It meant Creighton claimed his second victory of the season while delivering a huge margin in the championship with a 32-point lead over Dominguez who finished second.

“I was just glad to get to the finish and a few of the other guys got stage wins and that helped as well. But I think in the JWRC everybody is a threat, because of the point structure and the double points in Greece anything can happen, so yes, it is just a big thanks from my side to the team and the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy, everyone who is supporting me to be here and Liam as well everybody did a great job and puts a lot of effort in, so to repay them with a win is really good for me,” said Creighton.

“It has been such a challenge, probably the most difficult rally that Liam Regan and I have done, so just to get to the finish was really the plan and we thought if we could survive and we would be in the mix, thankfully we came out on the top step.”

Billy Coleman Award winner Eamonn Kelly and his co-driver Conor Mohan were also contesting the Junior element of the rally.

Like their teammate, they endured a tough and demanding rally on their way to sixth in the category.

The Donegal man, the class winner in Croatia in May, was almost lost for words after he was asked to describe the conditions he faced during the rally.

“Glad to get to the end, it’s been a tough event, it is very hard to describe how crazy it is, but I enjoyed every bit of it,” he said. “It's crazy, it was a savage challenge and I never done anything like that before. “

Kelly is sixth in the championship standings after Italy, the third of five rounds. Next up is Estonia in July but with double points on offer in the final round in Greece, the series remains wide open.

Rally Academy crew Josh McErlean and John Rowan out in another strong performance for the third rally in a row.

Driving the PCRS Rallysport-prepared Hyundai i20 they finished 15th overall and seventh in the WRC Challenger category.

“We completed an incredible adventure from start to finish. The whole team did a fantastic job to get us through this event. It had some very tough points but when it didn’t look so bright, we made the best of every difficult situation,” said the Derry-based driver.

“Thanks to the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy and everyone behind the scenes, to John on the notes and everyone for their support. A good result let’s keep the momentum going. It was great to see all the other Irish crews out here and a special mention to William and Liam on the win.”

Brothers Patrick and Stephen O’Brien drove the Academy’s ‘share’ car for the second time this season.

Like their Irish teammates, the reigning Irish forestry rally champions endured a tough event.

They had to rely on Super Rally rules to get to the finish after an off-road excursion on Friday damaged the front of the car.

“We made the finish anyway, after a tough event. It started off quite good but on the second day we clipped a stone and damaged a wheel,” he said.

“Saturday, we had a small issue, but Sunday's been absolutely brilliant. I know it's really been quite hard but enjoyed driving the car. A lot of positives to take from it as well, last day pace was good for having so very little time in the car.”

As well as running four crews in Italy, the Rally Academy continued its plan of training up-and-coming co-driver who gain on-event experience with the team.

This time it was the turn of Grace O’Brien who took on a team management role for the weekend.

“It's been a fantastic exercise here in Sardegna to work on the ground with the teams, on what has been a very tough but rewarding event,” she said.

Co-driver Aaron Johnston was another who was forced to use Super Rally rules to get to the finish.

The Toyota Yaris he shares with Takamoto Katsuta developed a water pump issue on Saturday, but they did set a string of top three times over the weekend including two stage wins.

“It's been an up and down weekend but still plenty of positives for us to take away from Italy and we can look forward to Safari Rally Kenya with excitement and confidence,” he said.

Academy co-drivers Ronan Comeford and Lorcan Moore spent the week in Sardinia as part of the FIA Rally Star programme which was launched before the rally.

Their first outing in the programme is the 51st Rally San Marino in mid-June.

Meanwhile, back home, several Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy members contested the Laois Heartlands Rally.

Aoife Raftery was back on dry fast asphalt for the first time in nearly a year in her Ford Fiesta Rally2 while co-driver Eoin Treacy sat with Casey Jay Coleman for the first time. Both drivers were using the club event as a training exercise ahead of potential entries in bigger European rallies later this summer.

Text by: Sean Moriarty.

Watch this event summary video below



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