Josh McErlean and co-driver John Rowan finished second in the WRC2 challenger category and seventh in the WRC2 overall class, equalling his career-best from Belgium in 2021. They were driving a Hyundai i20 N Rally2, prepared by Irish team PCRS Rallysport in what was a long and difficult event.
McErlean and Rowan had to mind tyres all day Friday given there was no midday service halt.
By the end of Saturday, they had moved into 12th place overall and knew that a calculated drive on Sunday would give them the result they wanted and deserved.
“To think there were five or six former ex-WRC drivers there and to come away with seventh is special,” said Josh at the finish in Porto on Sunday afternoon.
“It was rough, and it was tough but delighted we got there. Thanks to the team and the academy, they put in a huge effort over the last few days.”
The second Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy car was driven by Billy Coleman Award winner Eamonn Kelly and Conor Mohan.
The crew were given the chance to drive the car – only their third gravel event in Rally 2 car – as part of the academy’s plan to share its use with several drivers over the season.
The Donegal/Monaghan pairing faced a steep learning curve during this rally event, they lost a load of time on the opening stage when a routine puncture change went wrong.
Later in the day, they were late for the final stage following exhaust failure on a road section.
They had to rely on SuperRally rules to get themselves to the finish after retiring Saturday with mechanical problems.
Nevertheless, Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy Co-ordinator Sean McHugh said they were happy with Kelly’s performance and pace over the weekend.
“We had a weekend of ups and downs,” said Kelly. “But we were here to learn and we learned a hell of a lot. It was an experience never to be forgotten.
Kelly’s next event is the Junior WRC counting Rally Sardegna in a few weeks’ time.
After three days of gravel rallying in Portugal Kelly said he is more than ready for whatever the Italian roads will throw at him.
“We know what to expect in Sardegna now,” he added, “We could have had no better training. Thanks to the Rally Academy and PCRS for all their work too - it was a life experience and the stuff of dreams.”
Category winner, British driver Gus Greensmith draped the Irish flag across the windscreen of his Skoda Fabia Rally 2 as he drove over the finish ramp in a fitting tribute to the late Craig Breen.
Co-driver Eoin Treacy was also in Portugal. He was drafted into the team to see how a WRC event works from the inside.
He attended and co-drove on McErlean’s pre-event test. He worked closely with Rowan during the recce and was an extra pair of hands and eyes in the service park all weekend.
“I learned a lot, there is so much going on, long days and minding tyres,” said the Cork-based co-driver.
Treacy’s appearance at the event was part of the Rally Academy’s training programme where different young co-drivers are given on-the-job work experience.
The rally also marked James Fulton’s return to the navigator’s seat. He joined Kris Meeke in the Hyundai Portugal Team entry. However, they retired on Friday with suspension problems. As they were only taking part in the Portuguese Rally Championship element of the rally and that concluded after Friday’s stages, they did not restart on Saturday.
Aaron Johnston also had a difficult weekend. He and his driver Takamoto Katsuta retired their Toyota Yaris Rally1 on Friday following an alternator issue. They re-joined on Saturday and managed to set a fastest stage time on Sunday morning – a snapshot of what might have been.