Monza for McErlean as Motorsport Ireland Academy Star grabs World Championship Outing
McErlean will once again be behind the wheel of a Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing i20 R5. Image credit: Flat-Out Media Agency
Current Motorsport Ireland Billy Coleman Award Winner and MI Rally Academy ace Josh McErlean has secured a drive on the final round of the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship, ACI Rally Monza (3-6 December), driving a Hyundai i20 R5 in the WRC3 category of the event.
Just days after contesting the FIA European Rally Championship qualifier, Rally Islas Canarias, McErlean and co-driver Keaton Williams will head to Monza for the WRC finale with the young duo set to make only their second-ever World Championship start and second in Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing-built R5 machinery.
Originally destined for a season in the British Rally Championship in a Hyundai i20 R5, McErlean has enjoyed one of the most talked-about flourishes to his career in recent months thanks to the support of the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy and Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing.
After the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic which halted most domestic motorsport, McErlean would head to Rally di Alba in Italy during August in a bid to gain experience and valuable seat time in the Hyundai, securing a top-twenty result in the process.
Working hard behind the scenes, the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy and McErlean soon had their sights set on another outing and in October, he made his FIA ERC debut at Rally Hungary, joining Academy teammate Callum Devine in a pair of PCRS Rallysport run Hyundai’s. McErlean impressed once again, taking 11th overall against some of the most experienced European drivers in the business.
McErlean understandably thought his season would end there, but once again, he was put on the entry list of the final round in the Canaries, which takes place this weekend (26-28 November).
But the best was yet to come, as a last-minute deal was arranged to allow McErlean to head straight from Gran Canarias to Italy, to contest the final round of the World Rally Championship in the prestigious WRC3 category driving a Hyundai i20 R5.
“Just when I thought this year couldn’t get any better, I get a phone call to say change your Sunday flight, you have an entry to Monza,” said a startled McErlean.
“It was a huge surprise and it took a while for it to sink in. It’s an unbelievable opportunity for me to contest a WRC round and I feel so very honoured and privileged to be in this position. It’s incredible to think I`ll be competing in two of the most high profile events in the world, one week after each other. My focus needs to be on Rally Islas Canarias right now but looking ahead to the week after is such an exciting prospect, I really can’t believe it”.
McErlean made his World Rally Championship debut back in 2019 as part of his prize for winning the Junior British Rally Championship, taking to the wheel of an i20 R5 for the very first time at Wales Rally GB.
Weeks later, he headed to the popular Monza Rally Show to contest the Hyundai i20 R5 Trophy at the star-studded event within the confines of the historic race track, taking a remarkable third place on his asphalt debut in the car.
Now, McErlean will head back to the scene of his podium spot, but this time with a little more experience under his belt.
“This will be the first time I`ll have driven the Hyundai on an event which I`ll be familiar with and that’s actually quite exciting,” he says.
“I really enjoyed Monza last year and although this will have a very different look to it, I`ll at least have some experience of the stages within the circuit. I do have to keep reminding myself that I have only a handful of rallies under my belt in the Hyundai so I`m still learning a lot about the car and myself. It will need to be a measured drive for me but I’ve proved I can do that this year”.
ACI Rally Monza offers a unique format for a World Championship round, with the opening and final day’s stages taking place within the grounds of the circuit. However, the second leg of the rally will head out into the Italian countryside, with the rally hosting over 240 kilometres of special stage action over three days.
McErlean is eager to make the most of the opportunity.
“Opportunities like this are once in a lifetime so I`m going to grab it with both hands. I think it will help coming straight from one event into another and the mindset will be the same so I won't need to build myself up into rally mode if you like. I want to enjoy this experience and I have to say a huge thank you to the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy and Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing for making this happen. I sincerely hope I can repay their trust with a positive result.”