World Rally Championship

Armstrong leads NI trio’s Spanish fight for WRC success

Three rally drivers from Northern Ireland will do battle in the World Rally Championship on this weekend’s Rally Spain. Jon Armstrong is one of three young drivers fighting for the Junior WRC title while Josh McErlean and William Creighton bid to showcase their speed on the world stage.

August’s Ypres Rally Belgium was the most-recent WRC round for all three drivers. The asphalt rally proved a success for each of them and a return to tarmac in Spain could suit them once again.

Josh McErlean / James Fulton (Hyundai i20 R5, WRC 3)

Driving a four-wheel-drive Hyundai i20 R5, McErlean and Irish co-driver James Fulton are aiming for another strong result in WRC 3. The duo claimed 12th overall on August’s Ypres Rally, finishing in WRC 3’s top five on their debut event together.

Ypres is known to be a challenging rally for foreign drivers to get to grips with, making the result all the more impressive. But as McErlean explained, Rally Spain offers its own type of challenge.

“Again we are going to another country with more locals and more specialised drivers,” McErlean told Rally Insight. “It’s going to be a challenge to be on the pace from the start. Our aim is to build up so we’re on it by the end of the rally.

“It’s another different characteristic of event compared to Ypres. I think pacenotes will be very important because there are so many lines to take with the wide roads. You can carry a lot of speed if you get it right.”

McErlean has two championship-winning drivers in Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Chris Ingram to benchmark himself against in WRC 3. The 22-year-old will be focused on his own progress though as his year of sampling WRC events nears its end.

Will Creighton / Liam Regan (Ford Fiesta Rally4, Junior WRC)

Armstrong and Creighton complete their Junior WRC campaigns this weekend. Creighton can theoretically still challenge for the title thanks to the double points available in Spain but it’s a prospect probably not on his radar this weekend. Instead he’ll be focused on another strong rally and he’ll be brimming with confidence after a stunning performance on last weekend’s Mull Rally.

Creighton, and co-driver Liam Regan, finished eighth overall on the testing 17-stage island event. It also reinvigorated their Junior British Rally Championship campaign as they sealed a second class-win on the bounce.

The result leaves them 10 points behind Junior BRC leader Eamonn Kelly with two rounds remaining.

Creighton’s debut season in Junior WRC has been about gaining experience and finding his feet on the world stage. Stage winning speed on Ypres Rally will have him primed for another attack on the championship’s final round this weekend.

Jon Armstrong / Phil Hall (Ford Fiesta Rally4, Junior WRC)

As for Armstrong, he faces the most important weekend so far in his rally career. The talented underdog has put himself in a prime position to win Junior WRC and take home its mammoth prize package.

Two rally wins and a runner-up finish on Rally Estonia puts him second in Junior WRC ahead of Rally Spain’s double-points finale. With an incredible 67 points on offer this weekend (Junior WRC crews gain a bonus point for each stage win), the 14-point gap between leader Sami Pajari and third-placed Martins Sesks is nothing.

It’s effectively a straight fight between Armstrong and his Finnish and Latvian rivals, although Junior WRC’s other three drivers still hold outside chances if the top-three run into trouble. The winner will take home a brand new Rally2 Ford Fiesta, 200 Pirelli tyres, and free WRC 3 registration.

The biggest prize in rallying is what they’re all after. Armstrong hopes to follow in the footsteps of Craig Breen and Elfyn Evans to secure the crown in what would be an incredible end to an already remarkable rally comeback story.

“It’s bound to be of some benefit having experience on this rally,” said Armstrong, who won his class on Rally Spain in 2016. “It gives you a little bit more confidence but I think I can’t relax on that or take it for granted.

“I still need to have a really good recce, make good pace notes and drive to them.”

Junior WRC standings after Round 4 of 5

1 Sami Pajari – 91 points (83 points after dropped scores)
2 Jon Armstrong – 88 (88 after dropped scores)
3 Martins Sesks – 77 (69 after dropped scores)
4 Lauri Joona – 52 (44 after dropped scores)
5 William Creighton – 45 (37 after dropped scores)
6 Robert Virves – 42 (36 after dropped scores)

N.B. Junior WRC’s Rally Spain winner will receive 50 points with a bonus point available for each stage win.

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Photos courtesy of Junior WRC, British Rally Championship, and Hyundai Motorsport

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