Rally Insight Awards – Driver of 2021

The final Rally Insight award of 2021, it’s the big one – Driver of the Year! 2021 has been a brilliant year for drivers from the Emerald Isle. Now it’s up to you to pick the best!

From Ireland’s mini-stage rallies, the British Rally Championship, and right up to the World Rally Championship, Ireland has punched well above its weight when it comes to talented performances.

Shortlisting ten drivers was a difficult enough task, there have been so many who have caught my eye. Read Rally Insight’s run-down of nominees, which is in alphabetical order, and place your vote at the end of the post.

1 Jon Armstrong

Junior WRC runner-up

2021 has been the best year in Jon Armstrong’s already impressive rally career. And yet, after two Junior World Rally wins, an ERC Junior win, and second in Junior WRC; the Fermanagh-born driver knows it could have been even better.

Armstrong had to settle for silver in the World Rally Championship’s Rally4 series. His only mistake of the season came on Junior WRC’s final double-points round and in the end cost him the Junior WRC title.

It doesn’t take away from his incredible achievements this year. Against all odds, Armstrong won Croatia Rally at the start of the year, only his fourth rally since 2017. He overcame a lack of seat-time, testing, and event experience to set himself as Junior WRC’s new benchmark.

2 Jason Black

3rd BRC National Rally Cup

Jason Black bit the bullet and brought his pristine Toyota Starlet into the woods in 2021. The young Armagh driver embarked on a year in the British Rally Championship and was rewarded with top honours in BRC’s rear-wheel-drive category.

It didn’t take long for Black and navigator Karl Egan to get up to speed on gravel. Their Starlet was fastest in rear-wheel-drive on both Trackrod Rally Yorkshire and the Cambrian Rally.

Back at home, Black showed he hadn’t lost his edge on asphalt either. He finished second in modifieds on the Tour of the Sperrins and fastest of the Class 6 drivers. Black rounded out the year with fastest two-wheel-drive on the Ulster Rally, 11th overall, and first non Rally2/R5 car home on BRC’s final round of the year.

3 Craig Breen

3x WRC podiums

Craig Breen is fast becoming not just Ireland’s favourite rally driver but the world’s favourite bobble hatter. Along with Paul Nagle, Breen overperformed on each of his part-time WRC drives with Hyundai.

How he managed to challenge Kalle Rovanpera and Thierry Neuville on Rally Estonia and Ypres Rally Belgium, had us all watch in awe.

Breen is getting ever-closer to that illusive maiden world rally win. If M-Sport’s Ford Puma Rally1 lives up to expectation, there is no reason why Breen can’t bag several victories in 2022.

4 William Creighton

Junior British Rally Champion

After coming close in 2017, William Creighton and Liam Regan finally sealed the Junior BRC crown this year. The Ulster duo were the pacesetters all year and overcame a missed round and an event retirement to score a near-perfect set of results on the remaining rounds.

Creighton has undoubtedly developed his pace through 2021. His Junior WRC performances got stronger as each round passed and was one of the fastest drivers in Ypres and Spain.

The Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver will be a title contender if he returns to Junior WRC next year.

5 Callum Devine

3x rally wins

Callum Devine has been the man to beat since Ireland’s return to rallying at the start of Autumn. A troubled day trialling new dampers on the Ulster Rally has been the only blot on a perfect record in Ireland in 2021. Devine still managed third overall on the Ulster despite changing to a completely different set-up halfway through the rally.

A hat-trick of wins in Cork, Donegal, and the Sperrins were crucial moments for Devine who had been up against the best Rally2 drivers in Europe earlier this year.

He had victory threats from rivals on each event but assured performances from Devine and co-driver Brian Hoy hints at a partnership ready to take a good grip of future rallies and championships at home.

6 Kevin Eves

2x two-wheel-drive wins

Two-wheel-drive honours have always been hotly contested in Ireland. With a limited schedule of events in 2021, there was even more competition on the rallies that did take place.

Kevin Eves managed three starts this year. Alongside navigator Chris Melly, the Pettigo driver was untouchable in Donegal before snatching victory in Kerry from local talent Colin O’Donoghue.

A runner-up finish in Killarney Historic’s modified section, behind Rob Duggan, was another strong result to wrap up the year.

7 Jonathan Greer

NI Rally Champion

Jonny Greer was finally able to debut his Citroen C3 R5 on home soil this year. His performances in it have been impressive.

Two rally wins were enough to seal his second Northern Ireland Rally Championship title. Second overall on the season-ending Ulster Rally showed the C3 was capable in difficult conditions but Greer’s consistently quick driving in what is a new car for Irish rallying has been a key part to its success this year.

If Greer and Kirsty Riddick can mount an Irish Tarmac Rally Championship campaign next year, they could be dark horses for what will be a hotly contested title.

8 Eamonn Kelly

Junior BRC runner-up

22-year-old Eamonn Kelly has ticked off countless “firsts” in 2021. He entered the British Rally Championship for the first time, competed on his first gravel rally, and it wasn’t long before he scored his first Junior BRC win.

Kelly managed two victories in Junior BRC this year, enough to keep a fierce title challenge with William Crieghton going to the last stage of BRC’s Ulster Rally finale.

The Donegal driver finished off the year in style with a flamboyant display on Killarney Historic Rally in a Shell Oil liveried Ford Escort Mk2.

9 Josh McErlean

3x WRC 3 top-fives

This year, Josh McErlean showed exactly why Motorsport Ireland put its faith in him to wear the MI Rally Academy badge across Europe and in the WRC. A podium on the Olympus Rally, and fastest R5 driver, kick started his year in perfect fashion.

A top-five WRC 3 finish in Portugal followed before McErlean grabbed another overall podium on Italy’s Rally di Alba. Three more solid WRC 3 finishes rounded out the season, including McErlean and co-driver James Fulton’s maiden WRC 3 podium on Rally Spain.

It is impossible not to get excited about the future of this young duo.

10 Colin O’Donoghue

Escort Rally Special winner

Rally Insight’s recently crowned “Drive of 2021” – O’Donoghue’s Escort Rally Special victory – is just one reason why he is up for the Driver of 2021 award.

The Killarney driver was in a different league when he battled modified rivals Kevin Eves, Ed O’Callaghan, and Rob Duggan on the Kerry Winter Rally. With two stages remaining O’Donoghue held third overall and led modifieds by over 20 seconds.

Clutch issues haunted O’Donoghue on the final loop of stages and despite his best efforts cost him a modified victory to Eves by just over three seconds.

It’s time to vote!

Please note I have added the requirement of entering your email address. This is only to remove the chance of multiple votes being made which would affect the final results.

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Photos by Roger Dawson and Adam Hall

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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