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Josh McErlean challenging for virtual honours as he waits for return to the real action

 

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Virtual world: Josh McErlean taking part in the Codemasters DIRTY Rally

Virtual world: Josh McErlean taking part in the Codemasters DIRTY Rally

Josh McErlean

Josh McErlean

Virtual world: Josh McErlean taking part in the Codemasters DIRTY Rally

Josh McErlean had a big season ahead planned but like every other competitor he's been forced to stay home and wait for the day motorsport can restart.

The 20-year-old from Kilrea, the British Junior rally champion and Billy Coleman Award winner as Ireland's Young Driver of the year, was stepping up to the top division of the British series on board an R5 Hyundai i20.

But because of coronavirus McErlean has had to settle for a 'virtual' version of the British Championship spread across four rounds in Wales, Spain, Germany and Scotland on Codemasters DIRT Rally 2.0. And after the first round he's right in the thick of the battle. He finished second overall after the four-stage Welsh event, just seven second behind the leader, Welshman James Morgan who is more regularly seen in the co-driver's seat alongside Rhys Yates in World and British championship events.

With fastest time on the third of the four stages, McErlean split a trio of Welsh drivers, edging ahead of the real British champion Matt Edwards with Yates, recent winner of the eSports World Championship shoot-out, in fourth place.

Unlike many other virtual race and rally competitions, the British version is invitational and confined to Motorsport UK licence holders, excluding specialist gamers. McErlean's fellow Ulster driver Jon Armstrong could have taken part but as a former World eSport champion and DIRT Rally consultant he has taken on the role of commentator instead.

McErlean crashed out in the only round of the British championship, the Cambrian Rally, to have taken place this year but after his encouraging start to the virtual series he tweeted: "I've kissed and made up with Wales. I turned my frustration into concentration and happy enough to finish second after a very tough battle for the top spots.

"Shame there are no Irish rounds on DIRT!"

The second round takes place on Spanish tarmac stages in the week beginning May 25.

Meanwhile, the suspension of all Irish motorsport events has been extended until July 20 at the earliest and rallies will have to wait even longer before they can consider re-starting.

Motorsport Ireland has decided they will have to wait until at least August 10 but point out these dates may have to be revised if there are changes to the Irish government guidelines.

Belfast Telegraph