Mon 27 Feb 2023

McErlean, O’Brien join Breen in flying the Irish flag in Fafe for ERC opener

Irish interest in the FIA European Rally Championship season opener has multiplied following the additions of Josh McErlean and Patrick O’Brien to an entry list that already features Craig Breen, the country’s most high-profile rally driver.

Rising stars McErlean and O’Brien are both members of the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy, a talent-backing initiative established by businessman and competitor John Coyne in conjunction with the Irish ASN.

McErlean, 23, will drive a PCRS Rallysport-prepared Hyundai i20 Rally2 as part of his preparations for the FIA World Rally Championship-counting Vodafone Rally de Portugal in May. But with regular co-driver John Rowan getting married during Rally Serras de Fafe, Felgueiras, Boticas, Vieira do Minho e Cabeceiras de Basto, Brian Hoy will deputise on a one-off basis.

O’Brien, meanwhile, is the defending Motorsport Ireland Forestry champion and will make his ERC debut alongside his co-driving brother Stephen aboard a Rally2-specification Škoda Fabia. Their outing in Fafe is part of their Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy development programme and is one of several ERC appearances they are hoping to make in 2023.

“I’m really excited to be heading to Fafe and joining the European Rally Championship with the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy squad,” said McErlean. “The ERC is a fantastic championship that attracts some rapid, world-class drivers and home heroes, so putting myself up against that challenge is good for me. 

“Recently I have been concentrating on a WRC programme but, as a team, we want to keep progressing and increase the pace. The ERC is the perfect format for this. Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy is putting a lot of resources into the event, so we want to have a solid rally, get the kilometres in and ensure a progressive performance over the weekend.”

O’Brien, 25, will compete in a first-generation Škoda Fabia R5 driven by former champion Chris Ingram in the ERC during the 2018 season.

“It’s a bit surreal but I can’t wait to get going,” said O’Brien, who is responsible for preparing and maintaining his own rally car when he’s not driving it. “It’s just experience I need, I’ve never done anything like this before and if I can show good speed and the feeling is good then we can carry that. But it’s going to be a massive learning curve to be honest and it’s down to the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy that I am doing this rally because I would never have had the chance to go to a European event without them. They’re absolutely fantastic.”

Rally Serras de Fafe, Felgueiras, Boticas, Vieira do Minho e Cabeceiras de Basto takes place in northern Portugal from 10 - 12 March.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM