Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean will resume his FIA World Rally Championship campaign next weekend as he tackles Rally de Portugal [19 – 22 May].
After securing fifth place in the WRC2 Junior category at Rally Sweden, McErlean and co-driver James Fulton head for their second WRC encounter of the season, piloting a PCRS Rallysport run Hyundai i20 N Rally2.
And there will be little time to reflect on McErlean’s Portugal performance as just 11 days after the finish in Matosinhos, the next round of the championship takes place on the island of Sardinia just off the coast of Italy; often regarded as the toughest gravel event in the WRC roster.
In a demanding schedule, the 22-year-old from Kilrea, Co. Derry will need to call on all his previous experience and resilience to remain focused during both gruelling gravel rallies, but the Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing Junior Driver is eager to get back in the driver’s seat.
“I’m really looking forward to returning to the World Rally Championship and rejuvenating our WRC2 Junior campaign,” he says. “We have two, very tough and challenging events ahead that are extremely close together which of course brings its challenges, both logistically and for us as a crew. But we are well aware that these are two very strategic rallies in our championship campaign, and we are very much focused on delivering a result which gives us solid points for the championship.”
McErlean heads to Portugal with an impressive back catalogue of experience in the country, having tackled Rali Terras d’Aboboreira and WRC Rally Portugal in 2021, claiming confidence-boosting results on both outings. He would return to Amarante in April to familiarise himself once again with the surface and style of stages and was immediately on the pace, leading the rally until slipping into retirement.
“As a team, we have valuable experience of Portugal and the characteristics of the stages, as well as last year’s WRC outing which always helps to level the playing field to our rivals. We have also been working extremely hard in our preparation and bringing those two aspects together, we hope to find a comfortable rhythm from the off and use our experience to manage our whole rally. The aim is to have a solid, clean event that will get our season back on track.”
In his inaugural full WRC2 season, McErlean kicked off his campaign at Rally Sweden and despite making his WRC snow rally debut, was running inside the top ten despite a sizeable list of 22 Rally2 contenders. A brush with a snowbank hampered progress, but McErlean was encouraged with his recovery during the weekend and is aiming for more this time around.
“I am feeling incredibly positive for what is ahead and of course extremely excited to be able to tackle two classic WRC events. It will be a huge amount of fun, there is no doubt about that as they are some of the best gravel roads in the world, but the focus is equally there to get the job done. The turnaround for Sardinia is such a small window so we will need to have a good week of preparation in between events to everything in order so we can get experience of the rough and tough island of Sardinia. It’s going to be mega; this is proper World Rally Championship rallying.”