Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy members McErlean and Rahill to contest Rali Terras d'Aboboreira in Portugal this weekend

The Skoda Fabia that Josh McErlean will tackle Rali Terras d'Aboboreira in.

Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean will get his first taste of his new-for-2024 Toksport World Rally Team Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 on this weekend’s Rali Terras d'Aboboreira. The Portuguese National Rally takes place on Friday and Saturday and covers over 100km of gravel roads across seven special stages.

McErlean is set to return to the FIA World Rally Championship Vodafone Rally de Portugal in early May. It is over six months since they last contested any event in a Rally2 car – the Central European Rally – so this weekend’s event gives them the perfect opportunity to get dialled into their new machine and work with their Toksport World Rally Team engineers for the first time. The Toksport World Rally Team is the reigning WRC2 team champion with Andreas Mikkelsen and is running British driver Gus Greensmith this season too.

“It's quite exciting and obviously there's many stories of this car and how successful It has been so it's going to be good to get in, see what it is all about,” he said. “Obviously, it is a national rally and it is not the WRC yet so it is a good time to get up to speed with the engineers,  the mechanics, and the team itself and get into the process of how they work and how they operate. Perfect opportunity to get from the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy. “

 While McErlean has not driven a Rally2 car in competition since last October, in the off-season he contested the Classic Safari Rally in Kenya driving a Porsche 911 and has been involved in driver tuition on ice as part of the Below Zero project. His teammate in Portugal will be French driver Piere Louise Loubet and both drivers will have the benefit of a test in the region of the rally ahead of the weekend’s event. Other WRC2 frontrunners on the event include Yohan Rossel (Citroën C3 Rally2) and Nikolay Gryazin (Citroën C3 Rally2) providing the Irish crew with the perfect benchmarks ahead of Rally Portugal.

“WRC Portugal is the target, the aim is to get up to speed for that event, so it is going to be a step-by-step approach this week from the test and to the rally and so forth. It is a great opportunity for us to get to know everything and really excited to get off on the right foot,”

 McErlean, who will be co-driven by Eoin Treacy on this occasion,  will be joined on Rali Terras d'Aboboreira by fellow Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy members Craig Rahill and Conor Smith. This will be the Ford Fiesta Rally4 crew’s first overseas rally and only their sixth rally ever on a loose surface.

“We decided to pick this one as we have heard good things about it, that the stages are very good and it's a very well-run event, and we thought this would be an ideal one just to get the experience of rallying abroad at a national level before going straight into junior ERC level,” said the Cavan-based driver. “I have seen in previous years that the Rally4 class is very competitive in this rally and once again there are 28 in the class so it will be good to see where our pace is at.”

 Rahill was nominated for the Billy Coleman Young Driver of the Year Award on foot of his performances in a Ford Escort Mk2 during last year’s National Rally Championship. He switched to a Ford Fiesta Rally4 late last year.

“I've decided to pick a gravel event as I have a lot more experience on gravel than tar in the Fiesta, I feel a lot more comfortable on gravel in the car as I am still just adapting to the car on tar,” he added. “Preparation is similar enough, with the help of the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy this year we have been very well prepped for every event, which now leaves us in a good position to be able to carry out the level of preparation required to do these overseas events,” he added. “There is a lot more attention needed to go into reading the regs for this event and finding bits that differ from rallying at home here and make sure we have all areas covered.”

 His co-driver Smith prepared for their overseas adventure by making his four-wheel-drive debut on Sunday’s Birr Stages Rally. He guided fellow Cavan man Gary Kiernan to 9th overall despite a faulty pop-off valve causing issues in their Ford Fiesta R5 all day. Rali Terras d'Aboboreira marks former WRC co-driver and Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy mentor Paul Nagle as an FIA Observer. The rally is a counting round of the FIA European Rally Trophy and Nagle will work as an observer in the majority of the championship’s 14 rounds.
Rally Croatia
The fourth round of the 2024 World Rally Championship, Rally Croatia, was not kind to Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy members. A host of issues prevented Eamonn Kelly and co-driver Conor Mohan from defending their  Junior WRC class win from the previous year. A puncture on Friday cost valuable time, but they were forced into SuperRally rules later in the day when their Ford Fiesta Raly3 suffered coil pack problems. Their M-Sport Poland team of mechanics repaired the offending component on Friday night but they retired for good on Saturday after the car suffered a coolant problem.

William Creighton and Liam Regan were also forced to rely on SuperRally rules to get to the end. A rare mistake on Friday ended in an off-road excursion – there was no damage but the car was beached and they were unable to rejoin the road. A Friday morning puncture and a broken suspension arm on the final day also hampered progress.

“Happy to get to the end of a challenging yet encouraging Rally Croatia. The event this weekend was as challenging as ever, the roads and conditions are relentless,” said the reigning Junior World Rally Champion. “Unfortunately, the setbacks on Friday scuppered any hopes for a strong finish, and a damaged rear arm during the final stage made for a stressful end - but we got our hands dirty and got the car to the finish.”

 Nonetheless, they continued through the Saturday and Sunday stages to get more seat time. They set several top-ten times in the WRC2 Challenger category and eventually finished a respectable eighth in that class despite their troubles over the weekend.

“The positive is that our pace was competitive with the WRC2 frontrunners throughout many stages this weekend, we will keep working to improve and have a more consistent weekend,” he added. “A big thanks to everyone at M-Sport for providing and a great car and looking after Liam and myself during a busy few weeks. Thank you to the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy for their continuous support, we could not do it without the entire team.”
Olympus Rally USA
The Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy founder and patron John Coyne continued his ARA American National Rally championship campaign on the fabled Olympus Rally in Washington State over the weekend. Driving a PCRS Rallysport-prepared Hyundai i20 N Rally2 the 73-year-old finished an incredible fourth overall. He set several top three stage times over the course of the 16-stage rally. The Olympus Rally is famous as the United States’ World Rally Championship round between 1985 and 1987.


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