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McErlean stuns the opposition in Hyundai R5 debut at Wales Rally GB

 McErlean bedded in perfectly for his British Championship prize drive - Image credit Jakob Ebrey Photography / Wales Rally GB
Billy Coleman Award nominee Josh McErlean put in an impressive performance on his R5 and World Rally Championship (WRC) debut last week, setting blistering times behind the wheel of a Hyundai i20 R5 at Wales Rally GB (3-6 October).

The outing was a supported drive, backed by the British Rally Championship (BRC) and Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing after securing the Junior BRC crown earlier this year. The 20-year-old from Kilrea in Co. Derry, set blistering times in the treacherous conditions before sadly being forced to retire with a technical issue.

McErlean has enjoyed a buoyant year in the Junior BRC, taking his Peugeot 208 to the title with one round to spare. Co-driven by Keaton Williams, the Northern Irishman would be offered the opportunity to contest the WRC qualifier and compete alongside the world’s fastest drivers over four gruelling days in Wales.

After a brief pre-event test in France, McErlean would take on the biggest challenge of his career as almost 200 miles of competitive driving, spread over 22 world-famous stages lay ahead.

The WRC2 category is the hunting ground for future talent and offers the perfect springboard into a full-time campaign, with the R5 specification examples used as a base for the feeder series. Talented drivers all aim to make their mark on the world’s stage and McErlean would be thrown into the deep end on his WRC debut.
McErlean battled with WRC2 regulars Image credit: Jakob Ebrey Motorsport Photography/ Wales Rally GB
Shakedown would be his first chance to sample the Welsh forests in the Hyundai and with no expectations surrounding his performance, McErlean would have been forgiven for taking it easy. But a sensible approach on the rutted test saw him set 18th fastest RC2 time, just a handful of seconds behind the World Championship regulars.

After a glamorous ceremonial start in Liverpool’s Waterfront, Oulton Park Race Circuit opened the event, with its wet and slippery track under the cover of darkness an additional test, but McErlean negotiated the stage in style.

Friday’s classic stages in Mid Wales would challenge even the best drivers in the world, as rain and standing water made for tough conditions. But despite his lack of experience in four-wheel-drive machinery, McErlean shone from the very first stage, setting a time within a handful of seconds of the current British Champion, beating many international stars in the process.

That form continued into the 16-kilometre Penmachno stage where he blitzed much of the opposition, setting a top ten RC2 time. After a gruelling opening loop, the youngster sat in 13th spot from 25 world-class competitors, but would have to park up the Hyundai part-way through the second pass of Elsi due to a technical issue with the i20.

With support from Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing, the Melvyn Evans Motorsport team worked into the night in a bid to ensure McErlean re-started under Rally2 for the iconic `Super Saturday` stages, but sadly they could not complete the repairs in time and McErlean’s `dream drive` was over.

“Of course, I`m gutted not to be back out there today (Saturday) but it’s been such an overwhelming experience, I can’t fail to take the huge positives away from the stages that I have completed in the car,” he said.

“From the moment I stepped into the Hyundai in France, I felt really at home in the car, so it gave me huge amounts of confidence, even competing on my very first World Championship event which is a huge challenge in its own right. But I wasn’t pushing at all, I found a pace I was happy with and kept that up in the morning’s loop, which turned out to be the right approach”.

McErlean was happy with his result over the morning’s stages and feels there is much more to come in the future.

“The i20 is a fantastic car and really seemed to work well with my driving style. That was reflected in the stage times I think and to be mixing with the WRC2 guys on my first few competitive miles in the car is encouraging. Of course, I`d love to get out again in the future so we will now go and work hard on next year’s plans and see what happens. Thanks must go to Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing, the British Rally Championship, Pirelli, Carless Hiperflo, Rally Cover, Woodland NI, SDC Trailers, Jefferson Tools and Asset Alliance for all their support this week.”
Josh (R) settled in perfectly to the Hyundai i20 - Image credit: British Rally Championship

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