Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean kick-started his 2023 World Rally Championship WRC2 campaign with a confidence-boosting performance at the world-famous Rallye Monte Carlo last weekend.
The 23-year-old from Kilrea, Derry threaded his PCRS Rallysport run Hyundai i20 N Rally2 across the treacherous mountain rounds surrounding the rally base of Monaco, setting a string of impressive stage times along the way.
“I was really encouraged with our approach and progression throughout the weekend,” said McErlean.
“There is no other rally like it and it was a huge privilege to be contesting the event that I have always dreamt of as a youngster.
"It was a surprise that the roads were as dry as they were and that gave a different element to the event but there was still plenty to catch you out, so we kept our heads down and pushed on where we could. As the event progressed, we found our rhythm and that showed in the stage times which improved consistently day by day”.
McErlean began his second season in the WRC2 category with his debut run at the traditional WRC opener. John Rowan was in the co-driver’s seat for the first time as the duo began a new partnership for the 2023 season.
The gruelling four-day event is often made even more treacherous with snow and ice covering the higher sections of the mountains but that was absent this year thanks to largely dry roads.
Two stages on Thursday night opened proceedings and McErlean enjoyed a clean run in the sub-zero temperatures. Friday would require precision driving thanks to a lack of mid-day service and once again the Hyundai driver returned to Monaco with a progressive set of stage times behind him.
Sadly an exhaust issue on Saturday’s second test would force McErlean out, but he would return under Super-Rally on the final day, picking up the pace as the day progressed to set the sixteenth fastest overall and a fifth fastest class stage time on the Wolf Power Stage to round out the event.
“It was a shame about our Saturday retirement but there are plenty of positives to draw from the weekend. It was an exceptional experience and it was great to see so many Irish flags flying out on the stages to cheer us on. John and I continued to develop our relationship in the car and our pace improved day by day as the partnership gelled.
"Jon Armstrong and Brian Hoy did a fantastic job as ice-note crew and really helped with our confidence. The support from the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy, PCRS and all our partners was key to getting the experience we were looking for.”
“Now the focus switches to our next event, and getting some vital seat time to be able to hit the ground running when we resume our WRC2 Challenger campaign.”