Motorsport Ireland’s high-flying rally driver, Josh McErlean, had been on a roll when it came to his results in 2021. The Hyundai junior had set himself up to shine on the European Rally Championship’s visit to Italian asphalt on Rally di Roma.
Unfortunately, a more troublesome type of roll ended his run of ever-improving results on Sunday but it is a case of lesson learned and onto the next challenge for McErlean. A rather exciting challenge in the form of Ypres Rally Belgium.
Ypres will be McErlean’s second World Rally Championship event this year after finishing fifth in WRC 3 on Rally Portugal back in May.
Excitement aside, it was important for the 22-year-old to learn where things went wrong in Rome.
“I have to put my hands up and say it was my fault,” admitted McErlean. “There is no point in blaming anybody else, it was my mistake.
“We had a slight moment on a left-hander over a crest-jump. We got a bit out of phase there and 100 metres on we arrived at a right-hander that tightened to a three-right over a crest.
“We went too deep into it, ran wide, and clipped a bank on our way off. These things happen and you have to look at what happened before to break down the cause of it.
“It was as simple as me losing concentration on the pacenotes and not resetting quick enough. At this level you have to reset because these boys are having moments everywhere and that is just normal.
“It’s not a crash that will upset my rhythm or driving going forward so it is good that we can pick out what caused it.”
Rally di Roma proved to be yet another super competitive ERC event. Halfway through the rally, McErlean was just outside the top 20. Certainly not where he had hoped to be but he was less than a minute and a half behind the local leader, Andrea Crugnola.
Craig Breen finished Saturday’s running in 12th, Andreas Mikkelsen was down in 17th.
As always, McErlean was looking at the bigger picture as he pointed out his progress against the times of MI team-mate Callum Devine from the year before.
Technical issues for McErlean’s Hyundai i20 R5, including gear selector trouble on shakedown, meant it wasn’t quite as simple as driving flat out from the word go in Rome.
But McErlean accepted that it is all part of the motorsport game.
“There are a lot of things that people don’t hear of because you are in a sport with a team. You work as a team and get through the rally without making a show of it.
“We had to deal with these issues and I think we dealt with them quite well.
“You need to be a team player. These things are the ingredients for what a manufacturer team will be looking for.”
At the moment there is no sole-championship focus for McErlean, there is time for that next year. Right now, he is focused on tasting different styles of rally.
A stop-off in Estonia on his way to Italy allowed McErlean to recce Rally Estonia’s high-speed stages.
Ypres Rally Belgium offers more WRC experience, except this time he’ll be doing the fast driving after his two days of pacenote making. There will be a few changes for Ypres – James Fulton replaces Keaton Williams in the passenger seat while McErlean will pilot Pauric Duffy’s usual i20 following the events of Rome.
The Belgian thriller will be McErlean’s first-ever traditional asphalt world rally but he knows this is a rally he needs to impress on.
“We have been there twice before and PCRS has been there twice before. I think we have a good package going into it.
“We know what to expect from the surface and the cuts – all the things Ypres is famous for.
“We will be going there in the R5 for the first time but we can’t use that as an excuse now.”
Photos courtesy of FIA ERC