Autosport International at the NEC produced several interesting stories not least that Callum Devine is going to contest the European Rally Championship, driving a Hyundai R5. Co. Londonderry man Devine, a former Billy Coleman Award winner, will again have Brian Hoy co-driving and they will enjoy support from, amongst others, the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy as well as Hyundai Customer Racing. He plans to contest all eight rounds of the European Championship, with particular emphasis on the six counters in the ERC1 Junior title. Callum managed a marvellous 3rd overall on the recent Rally Hungary, but is under no illusion that the European series will be easy. It is a big step up the rallying ladder and his realistic aim is to “push on the Tarmac events and keep learning on the gravel rallies, above all get finishes”.
The European season starts with Azores Rally in late March. Also at the Autosport Show it was announced that young Josh McErlean, current winner of the Billy Coleman Award will also drive a Hyundai R5 this season to tackle the six rounds of the Junior British Rally Championship. Josh is the current British Junior Rally Champion. Keaton Williams will co-drive. The opening BRC round is the Cambrian (8th Feb), followed by West Cork, Clacton, Ypres, Ulster, Galloway and Wales Rally GB. Also in a Hyundai R5 for this coming season is Keady’s James Wilson, with Arthur Kierans co-driving. Wilson is planning to tackle the Irish Forestry series and also selected rounds of the Irish Tarmac. The season will start for James on the Carrick on Suir forestry (16th Feb).
Looking back to last weekend, Derek Butler/Denis O’Donovan won the Cork MC’s 1000 Shakes Navigation Rally, driving a Subaru. Owen Murphy/Daire Evans finished 2nd, with James Fitzgerald/Ken Carmody 3rd, to make it a Subaru clean sweep at the front. The top six was made up of: 4th Aidan Sherry/Oisin Sherlock, 5th Brian Duggan/Eoin Treacy and 6th Denis Murphy/Michael Walsh. Darren O’Mahony won the Novices and Brian Duggan the Beginners.
Earlier this week, after stage 8, Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (BMW Mini 4wd) led the Dakar Rally, with Nasser Al-Attiyah/Matthew Baumel 2nd in their Hilux. Petterhansel was 3rd. Although Fernando Alonso was 2nd fastest in stage 8, he was down in 13th place in the overall rankings. Reportedly in stage 9 Sainz was losing time and Petterhansel was moving into the lead. There is still a long way to go of course. Sadly one of the motorbike riders, Paulo Goncalvis, was fatally injured in a stage 7 crash. Paulo was reportedly a really good guy and a very accomplished and successful competitor. Our thoughts and sympathies go to all those involved. The 8th stage was cancelled for the bikes & quads.
Looking forward to the Rallye Monte Carlo, just 10 WRC cars are entered. There are no ‘team’ Citroens of course. Three Hyundai team cars are to be driven by Ott Tanak, Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Loeb. The three Toyotas, with the drivers named as Sebastien Ogier, Elfyn Evans and young Kalle Rovanpera make up an all change driver team. Three M-Sport Ford Fiestas are to be piloted by Teemu Suninen, Esapeka Lappi and Gus Greensmith. The tenth WRC will be a Yaris driven by Katsuta Takamoto running under the Toyota Gazoo banner, but not classified as a ‘manufacturer’s entry’.
Just some of the other interesting entries include Mads Ostberg in an R5 Citroen, Welshman Rhys Yates in a new Fiesta R5 Mk2 entered by M-Sport and young Oliver Solberg at number 41 in a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, with Omagh’s Aaron Johnston co-driving. In terms of who will be doing the winning on this 88th running of the Monte – it is as wide open as ever, with the unpredictable weather adding to the uncertainty. World Champion Ott Tanak will be on his first rally with his new team, Hyundai. Thierry Neuville is in the i20 that he is totally familiar with and having finished as runner up in the world rally championship for the last four years, surely he will be trying extra hard. Former multiple WRC Champion and Monte winner Ogier is certainly no slouch when it comes to the Monte and he will be trying especially hard as he tries to establish himself with his new team, Toyota. This season, or rather this team is supposedly ‘his final rally fling’. Then of course there is that man Loeb, regarded as the Monte past master and theoretically in the twilight of his rally career. Who would bet against him pulling something special out of the hat? But then the Monte can throw up some surprising scenarios and virtually any of the current lot of WRC drivers could make a dash on this 2020 WRC opener. On the subject of WRC cars, it would appear that well placed senior WRC people are of the opinion that, for better or worse, a hybrid WRC car will just be far too expensive to produce.
Looking further ahead, current NI Rally Champion Stephen Wright has placed an entry for the North Armagh’s Kirkistown Rally, opening round of this season’s McGrady Insurance backed NI series. Paul McKenna has also enrolled for the 15th February event. The Galway International is coming together slowly but surely, and a few more top entries to add to last week’s mentions in Irish Notes include Donagh Kelly as well as Merion Evans, both in VW Polo R5s. We forgot to mention last week that David Guest has upgraded to a Fiesta R5. Joe McGonigle, Stephen Wright, Desi Henry and Jonny Greer have all entered in R5s.
Regards, Brian, Liz and Michael Patterson.