Belfast Telegraph

McErlean relishing chance to mix it with the very best

Gearing up: Josh McErlean (left) and Keaton Williams
Gearing up: Josh McErlean (left) and Keaton Williams

By Sammy Hamill

New British Junior champion Josh McErlean has been handed a huge opportunity to step up to a higher level with a prize drive on next month's Wales Rally GB, Britain's round of the World Championship.

The 20-year-old from Kilrea is to join the likes of Kris Meeke and Craig Breen in the October 3 starting list when he will make his debut in an R5 Hyundai i20 courtesy of the British Championship organisers and Hyundai Customer Racing.

McErlean clinched the BRC Junior title on his home round of the series, the Ulster Rally, in his little R2 Peugeot last month and now gets the chance to not just experience his first World Championship rally but also the increased power and traction of an R5 car.

"It is just starting to sink in," said McErlean.

"I haven't driven the Hyundai i20 R5 car in anger, so there will be a lot to learn, and it won't just be the car.

"I have never done a WRC rally so I am equally excited for my first event, and where better to get started than Wales Rally GB?"

McErlean, who is already in the running for Motorsport Ireland's Billy Coleman Award (and a €100,000/£89,000 windfall as a prize) skips the final round of the BRC series, the Galloway Hills Rally in Scotland on Saturday, but fellow Ulsterman and 2018 MI Young Driver of the Year James Wilson is in the Dalbeattie starting list as he gets another chance to make the step up to the R5 category.

Despite crashing out of the Ulster Rally, Wilson's PCRS Hyundai is seeded at No.4 behind the Ford Fiestas of champion Matt Edwards, his closest rival for the 2019 title Tom Cave, and the top Ulster contender Jonny Greer.

The list also includes leading Irish juniors William Creighton, Marty Gallagher and Jordan Hone.

Meanwhile, Meeke is intent on again playing a strong supporting role for Toyota team-mate Ott Tanak as they take on the roughest round of the World Championship in Turkey this weekend.

Meeke proved his worth in Germany last month, finishing second and helping to fend off Tanak's rivals for the drivers' title, Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier, as well as helping Toyota take a maximum haul of manufacturer points.

But Turkey presents a totally different challenge, one in which luck may play as big a part as speed.

The dusty, rock-strewn stages are car breakers and, although Tanak headed a Toyota one-two last year with Jari-Matti Latvala, there are no guarantees they can repeat the feat this time.

Meeke missed the first running of Rally Turkey in 2018 during his enforced sabbatical following his sacking by Citroen, but said: "From what I could see watching from afar, and what the other drivers have said, the stages there were incredibly rough last year.

"I'll be at a slight disadvantage but perhaps a cautious approach could play into my hands by the end of the weekend."

The rally starts with a spectator stage in the resort of Marmaris tonight before moving on to the rocky gravel roads tomorrow morning.

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