Motorsport Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean will contest his first tarmac FIA European Rally Championship event of the year in the Czech Republic this weekend. McErlean’s last outing on asphalt was at the World Rally Championship counting Rallye Monte Carlo in January. All of his recent events, in the World or European championship have been on gravel and the Derry man has admitted he going to Barum Rally Zlín to re-learn the nuances of asphalt driving again.
His next planned WRC event is the new-for-2023 Central European Rally – some of which takes place in the Czech Republic – in October and this weekend’s Zlín-based event offers a great chance to learn more about the local surface before the main event later in the year. “It has been seven months since Monte, we have been so long on gravel, it will take a while to bed in,” he said. “It is a bit like Ireland, lots of choppy, bumpy tar, but people forget I haven’t rallied in Ireland for four years.
“It will be a learning week, we will take it as it comes, with one eye on the Central European Rally at the end of the year.”
Barum Rally Zlín has been a key component of the ERC schedule since the championship’s streamlining in 2004, the event is characterised by its bumpy, sometimes broken roads, high-speed sections in forests, changeable weather, and packed fan zones. But while there’s no guarantee what the weather will do, an entry list big on quality and quantity is always a certainty in Zlín, and it’s no different this year with 24 ERC drivers competing in headlining Rally2 cars.
McErlean will call on co-driver James Fulton’s experience at the event. This will be the Cavan man’s third attempt at the rally. Two years ago he guided Callum Devine to seventh overall in a Ford Fiesta R5. Back in 2017, in what s was just Fulton’s second rally outside of Ireland he was alongside Josh Moffett in a similar Ford.
Barum Czech Rally Zlín ran for the first time in 1971 and is described as a tarmac test like no other due to the bumpy and sometimes broken nature of the road surface. Several stages feature high-speed blasts through forests and intermittent showers are always possible. Huge numbers of fans follow the action, especially on the opening night-time Zlín superspecial stage. This event has been part of the ERC for more than 50 years and features a permanent service park hosted by event sponsor Continental Barum at their giant tyre factory and distribution centre in nearby Otrokovice. The rally officially gets underway on Friday evening with an opening super special stage in the streets of Zlín.
Saturday’s schedule comprises six stages, -three stages repeated – morning and afternoon. Another six stages take place on Sunday, making a total of 13 stages and 200.43 km of competition.