Northern Ireland’s long wait for a world rally champion could finally come an end in Spain this week if results go the way of Jon Armstrong at the final round of the Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC).

Armstrong has touched down in Spain with just three points separating him and JWRC leader Sam Pajari after scoring crucial wins alongside Phil Hall on April’s Rally Croatia and again on August’s Ypres Rally. However, when the dropped score rule takes effect, it is actually Armstrong whose name takes pride of place at the top of the leaderboard.

To make things even more interesting, double points are on offer on the final round in Spain meaning a possible 67 points are up for grabs over the three legs. That means Armstrong could still lift the title in a series where all crews use Rally4 versions of M-Sport Ford’s Fiesta without actually needing to fight for an outright victory.

Consistency has been key to Jon Armstrong mounting a title tile in the FIA JWRC this year.

That came in 2004 when he lifted the Production World Rally Championship trophy aloft on that season’s Telstra Rally Australia. “It would be really amazing,” Armstrong told Drive NI, when asked what it would mean to emulate one of his boyhood heroes.

“Growing up, I was a huge fan of the World Rally Championship. “I watched drivers like Niall and Alastair Fisher performing well at that top level. It’s always been my goal to get there, but the focus is very much on just doing our best and performing as well as we can.

“We are just trying to continue with our normal preparations and treat Spain like any other rally, really. We need to be confident and just try to do our best and see how that develops over the rally weekend.

“This year I’ve really tried to be as focused and as professional as possible, doing everything by the book. Working with Phil has also been a great experience; I’ve been able to put all my experience to good use,” he added. “I’ve changed my attitude too, to be more driven by performance than results.”

What could swing the title in Armstrong’s favour is the fact Spain is a tarmac round; he has excelled on the surface this season, as highlighted by his perfect scores in Croatia – where he steamrolled the opposition by 33 seconds – and Belgium where he was a minute clear of a battling Pajari.

Jon Armstrong and Phil Hall have won two JWRC rounds so far in 2021.

If Armstrong does end up winning the JWRC next week he will have one of two prizes to choose from for 2022: the keys to a Ford Fiesta Rally2 to tackle five rounds of the World Rally Championship’s WRC3 support series, or an identical number of starts in a less powerful Rally3 version of the same supermini.

“If I am being completely honest it isn’t something we have totally decided yet,” he said, “but I think Rally2 is the car I would like to be driving. We will just have to wait and see what happens after Spain.”

Rally Spain will be played out over 174 miles and seventeen stages, with these spread across Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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