Josh Moffett and co-driver James Fulton took a resounding 3rd place overall at the Azores Airlines Rallye, in the1st round of the European Rally Championship(ERC)! Josh, who is the current Motorsport Ireland Young Rally Driver of the Year is embarking on a European Rally Championship campaign; along with the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship(ITRC) in his Combilift backed Ford Fiesta R5. He claimed full points in the 2nd round of ITRC, the West Cork Rally to hold 2nd in the championship standings. This left Josh and James with big confidence heading for the Azores Airlines Rallye.
The Azores Airlines Rallye based in the city of Ponta Delgada, on the Island of São Miguel, takes in 210kms of stages over some of the most picturesque gravel roads the island has to offer. An unprecedented entry of 28 R5 cars meant strong competition for the Irish crew. The event got underway on Thursday with 4 stages. Josh took some time to acclimatise over the opening tests but at the end of the 1st day he held a strong 10th overall and was well within striking distance of the top positions, as well as holding 6th place in the U28 standings.
For 2017 the ERC has implemented a new championship for drivers born on or after 1st of January 1989 competing in R5 cars. Crews count their best 4 scores from a possible 6, starting with the Azores Airlines Rallye and finishing on the Latvia-based Rally Liepāja in October. Josh and James plan to compete on the opening 4 rounds of the series bringing them from Azores to Gran Canaria, Poland and then to the Czech Republic before assessing where they lie in the championship.
Friday and the real rally began with 40kms of stages to wake the drivers up before the 1st service. Stage 5 and a good time from Josh pulled him up to 9th overall, then on stage 6 he got into his stride. A top 5 time brought him to with 1.9seconds of Jan Černý in 8th, this was shaping up to be a big battle with the Czech driver. Another top 10 time through stage 7 put Josh just ahead of Černý going into service. Josh commented “Its been a great morning we are climbing up the leaderboard and the bad weather seems to be going away, so thats all good!”
A repeat of the morning stages concluded the day and Josh continued a steady pace, capitalising on others issue to climb to 6th overall and maintain his advantage over Černý. “We had issues with the handbrake so I am just relieved to have made it to the end of the day in such a strong position!”
The final sting in the tail for the crews were 6 stages on Saturday, covering another 103kms of the island. Heavy fog blanketed the opening stage proving a huge difficulty to all crews. 9th quickest for Josh was a very good result. “The fog was crazy through the stage, it was really really difficult to push on, there was no point in throwing away a good result there.”. Černý was on the move through stages 12 & 13 just piping Josh to 4th place leaving 9.8 between them with 3 stages to go.
Josh went on the attack through stage 14, pulling a massive 9.4 seconds back out of Černý leaving only 0.4 of a second between them heading into the penultimate test. Josh also capitalised on Ricardo Moura’s retirement to move into 4th overall. With so little now between Josh and Černý for the final podium position it was all or nothing for them. Unfortunately it was not to be Černý’s day as he crashed his Skoda on the stage. “Its a big pity to loose Jan, it has been a great battle! Now we have to just bring it home!”
It was a nerve racking run through the final stage but Josh and James crossed the finish line in 3rd place overall, Josh’s 2nd podium in the ERC. The last came at the Circuit of Ireland in 2015 where he also claimed a 3rd place. The pair also gained a fine second in the ERC Under 28’s just behind Marijan Griebel in his Skoda Fabia R5. “Its still unbelievable to be on the podium at the first round of the championship! I really have to thank everyone who helped us get here, especially our families, friends, supporters, sponsors, Motorsport Ireland and everyone in Tom Gahan Motorsport, who have run a great car for us.” “A huge thanks has to go to the man in the navigators seat, James Fulton who did a faultless job on the notes all rally!”