Galway’s Aoife Raftery has wasted no time in tallying up her rally miles in 2021. The 21-year-old made her driving debut back in July and has since tackled five further rallies to round out the year.
Personally, the part that I have found interesting is the spread of events Raftery has encountered over the past five months. An Irish driver making her debut on gravel is one thing but having the bravery to go for it in the British Rally Championship is quite commendable.
Okay, a lack of events at home may have forced Raftery’s hand into her Nicky Grist Stages debut but still it was an early sign of her drive to make something of her early foray in rallying.
“I decided to go to the UK to compete in the British Rally Championship Academy Trophy,” explained Raftery. “We went over with my 1.6-litre Ford Fiesta R2.
“I came to the decision because I just really wanted to begin rallying. Obviously there were still no events in Ireland.
“We finished fourth in class even though we lost power steering on stage four. I was really happy to bag my first ever finish.
“In the meantime, rallysprints had begun in Ireland so I entered the one in Laois. I finished fourth in class again but what stood out was the fact my times were improving all through the day.”
Raftery returned to the BRC for Scotland’s Grampian Rally before tackling another rallysprint at home, this time in Carlow.
The string of loose surface rallies continued and Raftery had a new co-driver for September’s Bushwhacker Rally. Her desire to develop encouraged the decision to draft in the able assistance of three-time British Rally Champion Matt Edwards. Another forward-thinking and no-nonsense approach to Raftery’s first year in rallying.
“My aim for the year was to get as much seat-time as possible and learn as much as I could.
“I have achieved a lot this year and I think jumping in at the deep-end by doing the BRC has accelerated my learning.
“With only two passes on recce, competing against a lot more experienced drivers, and my first few events being on gravel there was a lot to pick up and digest.”
Raftery’s final gravel rally of the year was next up. Yorkshire’s Trackrod Rally featured an opening stage on Friday night giving Raftery the chance to tick rallying in darkness off her checklist.
Two asphalt rallies, Wexford Stages and the Ulster Rally, completed her debut season and looking back it has been a year full of personal achievements and special moments.
“Wexford was my first tarmac rally and it was special as my brother Dean co-drove for me. We managed to finish second in class.
“Then to end the year by finishing second in the BRC Academy was brilliant.
“I think the hard work has paid off and it has been a successful year of learning and a good start to achieving my aims.”
So, what has Raftery really picked up and learnt since her dive into the deep end in July?
“Learning to left-foot-brake was a huge learning curve for me. Matt [Edwards] showed me how to do this on a test, we practised it, and I was able to put it into immediate use on the Bushwhacker. It really improved my handling of the car.
“I’ve been working to improve my pacenotes so that I can have full confidence in them when I’m on the stages.
“I have written my own since the first event and all the experience this year has allowed me to improve.”
It is clear that Raftery has taken a leap of faith in rallying this year and after all the commitment in 2021, she is by no means planning to rest on her laurels next year.
Her focus remains on forestry events in Ireland as well as a championship abroad. There is even a switch to left-hand-drive on the cards for the Fiesta driver.
Exciting times ahead for Raftery, a statement confirmed by her recent inclusion in Motorsport Ireland’s Rally Driver Academy. Watch this space!
Photos courtesy of British Rally Championship