Focused mindset key to McErlean’s 2020 development

2020 was a topsy-turvy year for rallying. For Billy Coleman Award winner, Josh McErlean, it proved to be a year of two halves. During a quiet spell ahead of his latest rallying campaign, McErlean took some time to relive his year getting to grips with a step up to R5 machinery.

Last year’s Autosport International Show set an impressive scene for McErlean’s original British Rally Championship announcement. The then-20-year-old joined forces with Philip Case Rally Sport and the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy to take on the best of the BRC.

Unfortunately rallying in the United Kingdom got no further than the BRC’s opening round, the Cambrian Rally. But the seeds were sown to bring McErlean’s potential to the next level.

“It was a dream come true to get started in the BRC in a top-level R5 car,” admitted the 2019 Junior British champion. “Looking back years ago whenever I was watching it on TV it was always a dream.

“To get to the first round in the Cambrian with probably the best R5 entry in the last couple of years was great.

“Then then support from Motorsport Ireland along with that as well. It was a proper programme going into that first round.

“Our Cambrian hopes didn’t end that well but I think we were third overall at one point. Then we clipped a rock which broke a steering arm.

“The next rally didn’t come until Italy and it was maybe a five-month wait over lockdown.

“I was always waiting to get going again.”

“It’s always a matter of pushing forward and at the end of the day, I always want to improve.”

A continental adventure

McErlean made his rallying return with PCRS on Rally di Alba. It didn’t take much to work up a sweat in Italy’s summer sunshine and as McErlean explains there was plenty of work to be done before he could line up on Alba’s opening stage.

“Well, first of all, we went to the European Rally Championship round [Rally di Roma] with Callum [Devine] just to see what it’s all about.

“It was a good experience to go there, see the atmosphere, and see what the stages were like from my side.

“Unfortunately it didn’t really go to plan for Callum so it was quite a big week for PCRS to get the car sorted out again.

“We had a one-day test really to prepare for Alba. It was a 40 kilometre test so it was nothing major.

“We were really in at the deep end amongst the fastest Italians. I would say it was the fastest national rally last year.”

That European asphalt experience was transferred to two ERC rounds later in the year. McErlean found himself in a second Motorsport Ireland Hyundai on Rally Hungary and the Canary Islands Rally in November.

It was another good chance to pace himself against team-mate Devine and learn more about continental rallying. McErlean narrowly missed out on a top ten finish in Hungary, finishing three seconds behind local driver Andras Hadik.

Secret to success?

“It’s all about seat-time as people keep going on about but it really truly is,” confirmed McErlean.

“At the end of Alba, I was just about getting onto it.

“With these rallies, we simply had to get to the finish, that was the priority to get the mileage and the experience.

“Going into Hungary we just cleared our heads again and it was another big jump going into our first-ever European Championship event.

“Yeah, we just took it at our own pace, and stage-by-stage we got there.

“It’s always a matter of pushing forward and at the end of the day, I always want to improve.

“It’s not like I was coming out of Hungary saying it was a great result. I wanted to improve but at the same time, it was good to see that we weren’t that far away from Callum.

“I don’t think our gravel pace is too far away. It was probably our tarmac pace we needed to work on, so it was good to get them rallies under our belt.”

An unexpected washout in the Canaries ruined any hope of a result on the ERC finale but McErlean was still keen to learn from it. Understanding how to make the optimal tyre choice, how to best set up a car to suit certain stages. It is all being added to McErlean’s ever-growing portfolio.

Rally Monza

For his final rally of the year, McErlean was in the hands of a new team – the Estonian based RedGrey Rally Team.

The partnership worked with seventh in the ultra competitive WRC 3 category. In fact four of the six drivers ahead of McErlean in Monza have snapped up manufacturer drives in WRC 2 this year.

“Monza was quite good to see what a different team does and how they work.

“I learned a lot from them and that will be good to bring back and show some other things to PCRS.

“We can always build on it going forward and it was a good position to be in coming out of Monza with seventh in WRC 3 on our first official World Rally.

“I think those three rallies have really helped us get things together for this year.”

Home or away?

The young rally driver from Kilrea was thrown into the deep-end throughout 2020. From the highs of planning a full BRC campaign to the lows of lockdown.

Then pitting himself against proven winners like Andreas Mikkelsen, Alexey Lukyanuk, and Craig Breen, in regions completely out of his comfort zone. It has been one massive learning curve for McErlean.

Such is McErlean’s impressive mindset, he is taking it all in his stride.

“You have to go against them at some point so why not do it at the start and see where you’re at?

“They are the benchmark after all.

“We could be rallying in Ireland, near the top of the timesheets thinking we’re doing great. Then a couple of years later, go to Europe and get completely cleaned.

“So I think that it’s definitely good to go in at the start and see where you’re at against these boys.

“And maybe looking from the outside, it doesn’t look that good from a results point of view, but if you break it down into stage times per kilometre, we improved from Hungary right to Monza.

“Yes, the roads at home are very good it is a very good place to rally, but I think you have to go to Europe to experience it all, to see the different roads and terrain.

“I think it has helped our pace a lot in the past year and it has definitely brought me up a level and Keaton [Williams, McErlean’s co-driver] as well.

“It is progress and work, but we have to keep on improving and finding areas to improve on.”

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Photos courtesy of European Rally Championship and Hyundai Motorsport

Adam Hall

Brought up in the Irish countryside, Adam was never far away from the world of rallying. From following local events like the Circuit of Ireland and the Ulster Rally, Adam now puts the stories from stages all around the world into words through his website Rally Insight.

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