McErlean stuns in the states at Rally Olympus
Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing Junior Driver McErlean dominated the RC2 class and secured an overall podium on the Olympus Rally
Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy team member Josh McErlean ensured his impressive run of form continued into 2021, by storming to an inspirational third overall and first in class at the Dirtfish Olympus Rally in the United States (24/25 April).
Not only did the 21-year-old from Kilrea, Co.Derry take his Hyundai i20 R5 to an impressive podium result, but McErlean and co-driver Keaton Williams also gave the Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing-built car its first overall stage win in America, beating much more powerful machinery across the seventh test of the rally.
The Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing Junior Driver would head across the Atlantic to tackle his first event of the season, thanks to the efforts of the Team Ireland Motorsports Foundation and the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy. In a bid to gain experience of events across a variety of surfaces, McErlean would use the event as a warm-up to his campaign, and vital knowledge on gravel.
The star-studded entry list boasted global icons such as Ken Block and Travis Pastrana with McErlean lining up as one of the main contenders in the RC2 category alongside fellow Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy team member Callum Devine.
Eight stages across super-fast forest roads near Seattle, Washington were on offer during the opening leg with a further four rounding out the event the following day and McErlean wasted no time in getting used to the unfamiliar surroundings.
Despite not being on gravel in over 12 months, the fourth fastest overall and fastest RC2 time over the opening test was a sure sign that McErlean has lost none of his loose surface pace, and that impressive run of form carried on over the first six stages of the event.
It would be the 29-kilometre Wildcat test that McErlean would shine – taking his Hyundai i20 R5 to a storming stage victory despite the deficit in horsepower to the open category front runners. His stage win handed Hyundai Motorsport customers their first scratch time in the United States and handed the young ace a podium position overnight.
A trouble-free run over Sunday’s leg saw McErlean consolidate his position to secure a remarkable third overall on his American debut.
“It's been a very special weekend for so many reasons,” said an elated McErlean at the finish.
“I've been out of the car for almost four months so thought I`d have to bed myself in, but to be honest it fitted just like a glove and I had the confidence to push from the first stage. We had a strategy to do our own thing on Saturday and see where we ended up but the stage win was the icing on the cake. It’s been mega to be competing with the likes of Ken Block and Travis Pastrana so to step onto the podium with them is a really surreal experience. I can’t thank Team Ireland Motorsports Foundation, the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy, Enda McCormack, PCRS Rallysport and all my supporters for this amazing opportunity.”
McErlean won't have long to relish the result, as he heads straight to Portugal for another outing on gravel, Rali Terras D'Aboboreira (30 April – 2 May).
“We originally were heading to the European Rally Championship round in the Azores but the event was postponed” he continues.
“With all the flights and logistics booked we looked around for an alternative so are heading to Portugal for one of their popular gravel events. Keaton [Williams] is unavailable so I`ll have Noel O’Sullivan in the co-drivers seat and the aim is definitely to build on my experience at the weekend and see if I can adapt that to the different style of event. It's all about the experience of course but I`ll be having a good push to see how we get on for sure”.