Ireland has a special place in its culture for rallying. The choice, variety, and quality of events is remarkable for a country of its size. Growing up it is hard to avoid with so many closed-road events spread across the country. For that reason, it is no wonder Ireland punches above its weight when it comes to young rallying talent.
Unfortunately, these potential rallying superstars have all too often been smothered out by a lack of funding. The financial gap to move to four-wheel-drive or to showcase talent on an international stage has caused many dreams to flounder.
However, in the past year, Motorsport Ireland has taken giant steps forward to give these potential superstars the chance to showcase their talents on the best possible stage.
One man who has been instrumental in this change taking place is John Coyne.
“Over the years I have been impressed with the effectiveness of the Billy Coleman Award in identifying young Irish rally drivers who have gone on to do great things at home and abroad,” explains Coyne. “However, there were also some who fell by the wayside through lack of sustainable funding.
“I felt that there were opportunities to further improve the scheme and to cast a wider net to encourage and develop a stronger bench of up and coming drivers.
“At the 40th-anniversary dinner for the Irish Tarmac Championship in 2018 I shared some of my ideas about putting something back into the sport which has given us so much enjoyment.
“Sean McHugh, the newly appointed Billy Coleman Award coordinator, was quick to follow up and presented me with some well-developed ideas for a structured approach to the development of an experience ladder for our young drivers to climb.
“I had a number of meetings with Sean and the Motorsport Ireland leadership team discussing a five-year program in support of young Irish rally drivers under the Motorsport Ireland banner
“In December 2018 we finalised the programs and budgets and I put the funding in place through the Team Ireland Foundation – a similar initiative taken by John Campion, which primarily supports young Irish racing drivers.
“I believed it was very important to have the full support and commitment of the ASN, based on experience of ASN commitment in France and Finland for example, as I felt that this would enhance the attractiveness of the program to commercial sponsors and such has now proved to be the case.”
Coyne’s proposal has turned into additional prize funds for the J1000 Forestry Championship, a dual-surface junior championship, doubling the Billy Coleman Award prize pot to 100,000 EUR plus an additional year of support for the winner, and the creation of Motorsport Ireland’s Junior Rally Academy.
“I’ve enjoyed over 50 years of rallying as a driver, co-driver, organiser, marshal and spectator. I’ve had some modest success in terms of championship results and an enormous amount of fun.
“At the same time, I had a successful business career that left me comfortable in retirement.
“With intimate knowledge of the difficulties faced by young drivers I felt I should give something back to my country and my sport by supporting our developing young drivers both materially and with my experience in both sport and business.”
Coyne’s passion for rallying is clear to see. In 2020 he will continue to compete in America in a McKenna Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5. He also plans to compete in the car in Rally Mexico as well as making various visits to Ireland in the crowd-pleasing Porsche 997 RGT.
“I’m thrilled to see Callum Devine, Josh McErlean and James Wilson announce their plans for 2020. I’m really looking forward to seeing them progress further this year and beyond.
“I’m also very impressed with the pace of our other 2019 Billy Coleman Award nominees as well as some very quick drivers coming up in J1000, the Dual Surface Championship and the Junior classes.
“Hopefully the incentives we put in place will continue to motivate and encourage a high level of competition and participation in the years to come.”
Photo: Capture Your Car Photography