McErlean ready for brace of rough and tough world rallies

Josh McErlean restarts his World Rally Championship campaign this week on Rally Portugal. The 22-year-old has had a quiet couple of months but that is set to change as he tackles two WRC 2 events in the next three weeks.

Rally Portugal will be McErlean’s second WRC 2 round of 2022 but he’ll knock off his third when he tackles Rally Sardinia for the first time at the start of June.

While McErlean and co-driver James Fulton will benefit from the momentum of doing two gravel rallies in quick succession, it does add some extra pressure to their trip to Iberia.

“Going into Portugal knowing we have Sardinia a couple of weeks later means that we need to be quite sensible here,” admitted McErlean. “We want to get to Sardinia with a good mindset and everything in good condition.

“Portugal is ultimately the priority at the moment, I prepared for Sardinia even before I started preparing for Portugal. You have to plan long-term.

“Sardinia will be rough and tough, it is always like that. Looking at onboards, stages, and stage comments; it will be a miracle if you are not working on the car at some point during the rally.”

Rally Portugal is home to some good memories for McErlean. It was his first WRC 3 event of a successful 2021 season, securing a maiden top-five finish in the category.

McErlean prepared for last year’s event by competing on the Terras d’Aboboreira Rally which is based in the same region as Rally Portugal.

Pleased with the outcome 12 months ago, McErlean and his Philip Case Rally Sport team replicated the process this year.

In fact, McErlean was a sensation on the popular national rally, leading after four of the rally’s nine stages. Unfortunately, his impressive run came to an end on Stage 5 but it’s a promising sign ahead of the all-important Rally Portugal.

“Our pace was good,” described the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver. “Especially on the first day when we were leading after the second stage.

“Ultimately we were running first on the road the next day which probably wasn’t ideal for Portugal because we’re going to be 25th on the road there.

“It was good to have the pace, know that we had the pace, and running first on the road we were still setting the fastest stage times. That’s a bit unheard of in Portugal.

“What happened on the fifth stage was simply an error on my behalf. The stage changed rhythm and the surface became very loose, I misjudged the grip, slid slightly wide on a corner, and clipped a rock.

“That’s how it ended, it was very hard to take while leading our first rally. It was quite comfortable as well because getting through that stage we would have had the hard work done of cleaning the road.

“We have to take some positives but we have to learn from it as well.”

As for Rally Portugal, the Hyundai i20 Rally2 pilot seems quietly confident that his preparation puts him in a good position for his second WRC 2 event of the year. With proven talents like Marco Bulacia, Chris Ingram, Jan Solans, and Erik Cais all in his WRC 2 Junior class, McErlean has a nice chance to prove what he is capable of on gravel.

But as he tasted on his warm-up event, these notorious Mediterranean roads are always ready to bite.

“The stages in the south have more bedrock, they are rougher, and you can expect a higher risk of getting a puncture.

“As the rally moves north on Saturday it becomes more soft and sandy. You can get this on the Amarante stage but it’s 40 kilometres long so there are a lot of different roads in 40 kilometres.

“The characteristics and rhythm are always changing.”

With over 330 kilometres of competitive stage action, Rally Portugal continues its form as a proper cornerstone world championship event.

Where better for McErlean to kick off his next chapter in WRC 2.

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Photos by RedPoint Portugal

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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