America

McErlean revelling in back-to-back gravel rallies

Four days, 8000 kilometres, and the Atlantic Ocean – that is what separates Josh McErlean’s first two rallies of 2021. The Hyundai Motorsport junior scored a maiden podium on Sunday in Washington, America and will compete on the Terras d’Aboboreira Rally in Portugal this weekend.

McErlean’s form on the Olympus Rally caught the attention of American Rally Association’s superstars Travis Pastrana and Ken Block. But for the young man from Kilrea, the rally was no PR stunt – he was glad to put an end to his four-month break from rallying.

After a brief stop at Laguna Beach, McErlean’s Olympus Rally week started with a short test before the event.

“We only did 40 kilometres,” explained McErlean. “It wasn’t a major test but the last time we were on gravel was the Cambrian Rally last year so it was good to get out again.

“We got back into it quite quickly and I was surprised by how naturally it came back to us. We had a good test, we played around with the set-up and had a good feeling going into the rally.

“The recce was on Friday – it was a big day with 260 kilometres of stages and it was a three-pass recce. I think we started at half six in the morning and weren’t home to seven that night.”

Utilising Enda McCormack’s Hyundai i20 R5, the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver wasn’t able to match Pastrana and Block’s straight-line speed in their powerful Subaru Imprezas.

However, when it came to the testing Wildcat stage, McErlean was the man to beat.

“To get the win on the last stage on Saturday was quite special. It was probably the most difficult stage of the rally, 30 kilometres of corner after corner, so it was good to get that one.

“I think the Subaru boys were a wee bit surprised by it.

“I would say it was probably [because it needed] more commitment and the stage was a bit slower than the others, the Subarus couldn’t use their power advantage.

“It was a proper drivers stage if you want to say. It was slippery with constant corners so you had to have full concentration through the stage.”

Now in Portugal, McErlean’s attention turns to his second gravel rally in two weeks. While his first two rallies of the year may not fall into his championship plans, McErlean is still more than happy to taste competitive action again.

“This is what you are trying to aim for all the time, to get back into the car straight away.

“This is probably the start of the busy season now. So to get to Portugal and sample new surfaces will hopefully play well for us going forward.”

McErlean will have a few familiar faces in Amarante this weekend. With his regular co-driver Keaton Williams unable to take part, Noel O’Sullivan will be a more than capable replacement.

Meanwhile, Irish drivers Pauric Duffy, Cathan McCourt, and Jason Mitchell all kick off their season on the North Portugal event this weekend.

They will have plenty of competition with an entry filled with quick local Rally2 crews as well as World Rally Championship drivers Chris Ingram, Ole Christian Veiby, and Alberto Heller.

The Terras d’Aboboreira Rally is located in the same region as next month’s Rally Portugal so will provide a nice warm-up for crews competing in the WRC’s first gravel event of the year.

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Photos courtesy of Chris Daley

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