Irish involvement in Rally Mexico on and off the stages
There is plenty of Irish interest in the third round of the World Rally Championship as Rally México makes a welcome return for the first time since 2020. There are three Motorsport Ireland competition licence holders in action in the first gravel round of the season, which takes place in the mountains of the Guanajuato region around the city of León. But there is an equal number of Irish rally personnel involved behind the scenes too.
The Mexican stages climb to the highest point of the season at more than 2700 metres above sea level. At such high altitudes, the thinner air can reduce the power of internal combustion engines by as much as 20 per cent adding to an already challenging situation.
Tyrone co-driver Aaron Johnston is making his second appearance on what is the first long-haul event of the year. He and Oliver Solberg retired in 2020 after their Volkswagen Polo R5 suffered engine troubles. He will compete alongside Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta in a fourth car entered by Toyota Gazoo Racing under their Challenger programme.
“I am really looking forward to Mexico, the first long haul of the year. I was here in 2020 but it was a pretty short weekend for us retiring on a Friday so hopefully this year it will last much longer, and we can get to the finish on Sunday.,” said Johnston.
“It is Taka’s first time here so the plan is just to gain the experience and the mileage for the years to come and get the experience. Looking forward to it and it's going to be a challenge, but it will be good fun too.”
Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy founder and patron John Coyne is competing in his first rally in 18 months. The California-based Irishman considers Rally Mexico his home event. On his last visit to Leon, in 2020, he finished 15th overall in a Ford Fiesta R5. On this occasion, he is being co-driven by Rally Academy co-driver Eoin Treacy who is making his WRC debut.
Their Ford Fiesta Rally 2 will be decked out in the official Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy’s livery and Coyne’s main reason for entering the event is to give another opportunity to an academy member. Eoin went straight to Mexico after winning his class on the opening round of the British Rally Championship, the Malcolm Wilson Rally on Saturday.
“He has done a great job already in terms of sending the recce schedule through,” said John. “He will learn the organisation structure of a WRC event, early mornings and late nights, long stages, calling more notes than a typical rally, it is a good opportunity to pass on 50 years of experience.”
John acts as team manager on any major event that the Rally Academy is involved in. This includes liaising between rally organisers and team members and managing tyre allocations. With John driving this weekend the team manager role has been handed to Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean who finished 19th on last weekend’s FIA European Rally Championship counting Rally Fafe in Portugal.
“Josh will be the main point of contact for the team, it is a great opportunity to see the flip side and what really goes on behind the scenes,” added John.
One of Coyne's mechanics this weekend is Irishman Kevin Fowler who oversaw his Irish Tarmac Rally Championship victory 41 years ago.
Craig Breen and James Fulton are also in Mexico. Although not competing the Hyundai Motorsport crew is taking part in the pre-event recce.
Meanwhile, Rally Academy co-driver Grace O’Brien is contesting this weekend’s South Belgium Rally alongside Clare driver Niall O’Sullivan in a newly acquired Peugeot 208 Rally4. The 12-stage rally takes place on Saturday and is based in the town of Vresse-sur-Semois near the French border.