Creighton shows impressive Junior WRC pace in Portugal
Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy member William Creighton was in the thick of the battle for his first FIA Junior World Rally Championship victory last weekend, before mechanical issues forced him down the leader board at a grueling Vodafone Rally de Portugal (20-23 May).
The 23-year-old driver from Moira in Co. Down set a string of impressive times in the hotly contested category, to be in with a shout of taking a maiden win on his gravel debut in the series. But driveshaft failure on the fifth test of the opening day put him out of the running for victory and a further transmission issue on the final leg sealed his second fifth place finish of the season.
Creighton and co-driver Liam Regan had a tricky start to their Junior WRC campaign in Croatia and Portugal would provide little respite with the soft and sandy surface proving the biggest challenge for the Junior WRC contenders thanks to running well behind the four-wheel-drive WRC machinery.
The deep ruts and churned corners made each of the 20 special tests as unpredictable as the last and Creighton would elect to aim for a valuable point-scoring finish rather than battle for the front spot and risk a zero score in Portugal.
However, Creighton’s Portuguese debut would get off to an impressive start with the second fastest time over the shakedown stage on Thursday morning. That pace continued into the event proper, with third fastest on the opening stage of the rally and just 2.4 seconds down on the leader.
Feeling “comfortable” with his speed and not taking risks, Creighton continued to impress and by the fourth test, he was second overall and in the battle for the Junior WRC lead. Sadly, on the fifth stage, Creighton’s M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally4 suffered a broken driveshaft and he was forced to park up with all hopes of victory dashed.
Able to restart on Saturday, Creighton would adopt a different approach as points became the focus in the rough conditions and starting the day down in sixth. Nevertheless, top three times still flowed and sixth became fifth thanks to a “tidy run” throughout the longest leg of the rally, heading into the final day with a chance of closing in on the fourth spot.
The drama continued on Sunday’s opening test when third gear all but disappeared in the Fiesta, leaving Creighton to battle with not only the conditions, but missing a vital part of the gear change process. Nursing the car through the final 28 kilometres, he was able to coax the Fiesta to the finish and more vital points in his debut Junior WRC season.
“It’s certainly a rally of mixed emotions” said Creighton at the finish.
“I was very encouraged by the pace we set early in the rally and everything just seemed to come together despite my lack of knowledge of the stages and unique surface that Portugal offers. I wasn’t taking any risks on Friday either and was managing the speed quite nicely, not looking for stage wins and just settling into a nice rhythm. I think being more relaxed helped with that pace and to see us in second overall was great motivation.
“I know that Portugal can bite back but being forced out of the fight on Friday was frustrating. It was all about consolidation from then on and getting more points on the board. Yes, the gearbox issue was annoying on Sunday, but realistically we were a long way from a podium by that point.”
“That said, there are plenty of positives to take away from our weekend and that’s really the focal point for me and take that positively into the next Junior WRC round”.
Creighton will now head straight into the opening round of the British Rally Championship, the Neil Howard Stages which takes place at Oulton Park on Bank Holiday Monday - 31st May.
You can follow his progress throughout the season by following him on his social media channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.