Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy drivers Creighton and Kelly ready for the snow of Sweden
Two Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy members will contest the only pure winter event in the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Sweden this weekend. As the only full snow-and-ice rally in the entire season, Rally Sweden is always a unique adventure. One of the oldest rallies in the world, Rally Sweden’s first iteration was back in 1950 and remains an iconic and fan-favourite rally on the WRC calendar.
Reigning Junior World Rally champions William Creighton and Liam Regan step up to the WRC2 category at the wheel of an M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rallly2. Supported by M-Sport and the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy, they will drive a Ford Fiesta Rally 2 for the first time this weekend. However, it is not their first taste of Rally2 machinery having previously driven a PCRS Rallysport Hyundai i20 Rally2 in Spain (2022) and Monte Carlo (2023). Claiming the Junior category win in Sweden last year, Creighton will carry this experience with him as he embarks on his first WRC2 appearance on snow and ice. The Irish pairing took on their first rally with the M-Sport at the weekend at the LBC-Ruschen Lima Rally which used roads previously used when Rally Sweden was based in Hagfors and Karlstad. Although only at the event in a Zero car capacity they were able to gather some valuable experience ahead of next week’s challenges.
“I have competed in Lima a couple of times and I have always found it really beneficial to prepare before heading to Rally Sweden. It is even more important this year as I step into the challenges the WRC2 category will bring with this new car, so I am really happy to have this opportunity thanks to the MI Rally Academy. I have always enjoyed driving on the snow and we had a good pace in Sweden last year. The aim is to get comfortable with the car and Lima presents a great opportunity to do that,” said Creighton.
Last year they won the Junior element of the all-snow classic at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta Rally3. “Participating in Junior WRC gave me great experience to build my pace in Sweden, which makes this transition to the WRC2 category much more manageable. The competition is so strong in WRC2 so I have to focus on my event and making the step up before I look at the others,” added Creighton.
Despite being a full-snow surface event, conditions are still highly changeable as temperatures alter the road itself as well as the surrounding snowbanks. Often reliably helping crews round tighter corners, snowbanks can become deceptively dangerous in higher temperatures and risk trapping crews within their folds and this is the vital knowledge that Creighton and Regan will need. He said: “I am really happy to have a full WRC2 programme planned with the support of the MI Rally Academy and to have the opportunity to work with everyone at M-Sport. Liam and I have spent a week with the team at Dovenby Hall, which has allowed us to work with the mechanics and engineers so that we are well prepared for Rally Sweden.”
Rally Sweden will also mark the first round of the 2024 FIA Junior WRC, which consists of a total of five rounds throughout the 2024 season. In Sweden, M-Sport Poland will run a hugely impressive 19-car entry of up-and-coming rally talent, who will battle it out in a field of Fiesta Rally3s to see who comes out on top. Eamonn Kelly, last year’s Billy Coleman Young Driver of the Year winner returns for a second crack at the Junior World Rally Championship. Highlights last year included a class victory on Rally Croatia, on only his second JWRC start and a third-place finish in Greece, arguably the toughest round of the season. He will face 18 of the best young drivers from around the world in what is the biggest JWRC entry in over two decades.
“I think that it is exciting with there being 19 drivers due to the fact that you're probably never going to be in no man's land as you were sometimes last year with lower [entry] numbers,” said Kelly. “Regardless of what happens throughout the event you know if you do drop time or gain places or whatever it is very unlikely that you are going to be in a position where you have a comfortable gap on either side of you. You are probably always going to be racing someone. so that is going to make for very exciting viewing and it'll be quite exciting racing.”
Incidentally, his co-driver Conor Mohan prepared for the Nordic adventure by winning his home Navigation Trial, the Drumlin, alongside, Gary Cassidy the previous weekend.
Other Irish interest in the event centres on the Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 of Takamoto Katsuta, and Tyrone’s Aaron Johnston. They have tasted success in Sweden in the past with a fourth-place finish in 2022 a particular highlight. Meanwhile, Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean will get his season underway in an unusual way on Saturday. He has entered the Echlinville Distillery Rally at Kirkistown – the opening round of the Northern Ireland Championship. He is co-driving for his father Eoin a Mitsubishi Lancer E9 in the six-stage rally. McErlean’s regular co-driver on World and European events James Fulton has announced a separate Portuguese Rally Championship programme alongside Kris Meeke with Hyundai Portugal. Fulton began his season in early February by guiding Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari to fourth place in the Qatar Rally in Volkswagen Polo R5.