Irish crews in Spain – how they all fared on day one

If Irish crews in action in Rally Spain thought Friday’s opening leg was challenging and difficult, they can brace themselves for more of the same on Saturday.

On Friday the 11 licence holders representing Motorsport Ireland tackled eight stages with a total competitive distance of 118.92kms, including two brand-new stages that crews had to contend with twice.

Crews will tackle a similar distance in Saturday’s seven stages, including the rally’s longest stage (El Montmell, 24.18km),  before finishing with a short sprint in Salou

The penultimate round of the World Rally Championship doubles as the final round of the European Rally Championship. There is Irish interest in both categories.

Craig Breen and Paul Nagle are the leading Irish crew in the rally, coming home in seventh place overall in their Ford Puma RC1.

Breen described his day as “up and down” happy to be setting good times in the afternoon but rueing a lack of confidence in his car as it understeered through the Catalan roads.

“I’m trying not to overload the front of the car but I’m finding it very difficult, to be honest. I’m just happy to be ticking them off and making no mistakes – that’s the most important thing today,” he said.

Tyrone co-driver Aaron Johnston and his Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta ended the day in eighth place in their Toyota Yaris RC1. A left front puncture on the day’s penultimate test thwarted an otherwise good run.

“Taka’s pace has really improved on tarmac,” said Johnston. “We knew from the recce it was going to be slippery and there was a lot of loose gravel after the cuts.2

Josh McErlean and James Fulton have their eye on a bigger prize. Cavan man Fulton could win the WRC2 Junior co-driving title this weekend and that remains on target after they finished the day 22nd overall and have their main titles Grégoire Munster and Louis Louka well in their sights. However, they did nurse a mechanical issue through the opening day’s final loop of stages. 

One of the surprise packages of the rally is Cookstown’s, Phillip Allen. On his maiden World Rally Championship outing he ended day one in 25th place despite a faulty intercom and a lack of understanding of the event’s tyres rules meaning he left service with three identical and one different tyres bolted to his Hyundai i20 RC2.

William Creighton and Liam Regan are also on their maiden outing in a Hyundai i20 RC2 car- a prize for winning the Junior British Rally Championship this year. They lost time on the day’s third stage when they had to stop and change a puncture.

Privateers, Eamonn Boland and Michael Morrissey finished the day in 48th place overall and sixth in the WRC2 category.

Ryan Caldwell and Grace O’Brien will make their European Rally Championship debut at the event by driving a Ford Fiesta RC4.

“This has been a real experience, the event has not been easy so far but it is good,” said Caldwell.They finished the day in 17th place overall in the European Championship category. Their rally will conclude on Saturday with six competitive stages totalling 116.6km, culminating in the 24.18km El Montmell stage but the World Championship Crews will tackle eight stages on Sunday.

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