Rally Estonia runner-up Craig Breen leads four Irish crews on this weekend’s Rally di Roma Capitale. The Italian asphalt event is the third round of this year’s European Rally Championship.
Breen is joined by Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy drivers Callum Devine and Josh McErlean. Pauric Duffy continues his continental rallying in a second Philip Case Rally Sport prepared Hyundai i20 R5.
Rally di Roma is Breen’s first asphalt rally since his poignant return to Sicily in May. He finished a slender 2.4 seconds behind winner Giandomenico Basso on the Targa Florio Rally.
Having already competed on three Italian Rally Championship events this year, Breen has been a force to be reckoned among the local experts. He reverts to MRF tyres as it coincides with his ERC campaign but their tarmac development should still give him a chance to close the current five-point gap to championship leader Fabio Andolfi this weekend.
Breen’s return to tarmac aligns nicely to his next event in the World Rally Championship. He’ll start Ypres Rally Belgium in a Hyundai i20 WRC alongside Paul Nagle and it’s an opportunity they’ll be keen to maximise as they aim for a full-time WRC drive in 2022.
As for Motorsport Ireland’s young guns Devine and McErlean, they too have some experience of rallying in Italy.
Devine kicked off his 2020 ERC campaign in Rome 12 months ago. After a promising start, engine damage brought his rally to a disappointing end.
The 27-year-old’s return to Rome also marks his first time competing in a tarmac-trimmed Ford Fiesta since the Donegal Harvest Rally in 2019 – a memorable day as Devine picked up his first overall rally win.
Trials in Poland and Latvia mean Devine is still hunting for his first top ten ERC finish of the year. The familiarity of sealed surface rallying makes that more than achievable this weekend.
In fact, he has the opportunity to make a statement of intent if he can bridge the gap to top seeds Alexey Lukyanuk, Andreas Mikkelsen, and compatriot Breen.
Driving the i20 R5 piloted by Devine at the end of last year, Josh McErlean will hope to extend his recent run of form. McErlean enjoyed podium celebrations on his most recent outing, June’s Rally di Alba. Alba was planned with Rally di Roma in mind and his result in northern Italy will give him great confidence this weekend.
The Hyundai Motorsport junior driver was in Estonia last week to recce the World Rally Championship event. McErlean previously told Rally Insight of his WRC 3 ambitions next year and is hoping to use 2021 as an opportunity to build a portfolio of different rallies.
Seeded 35th in Rome, Pauric Duffy and Jeff Case continue to accompany McErlean’s European efforts. They finished 29th on the event last year.
A four-kilometre shakedown gets the action underway on Friday morning before a total of 13 stages and 187 km on Saturday and Sunday.
Photos courtesy of Hyundai Motorsport and FIA ERC