Joel Eakin in action at the opening round of the 2021 NI Championship. Picture: Gary Craig Motorsport Photography

County Londonderry driver Joel Eakin says winning his class in last year’s Northern Ireland Rally Championship is the incentive he needs to sign up for more closed road rallies in 2022.

After missing out on the chance to fight for the Production Class title in 2019 following the cancellation of the last round – the Glens of Antrim Rally – Eakin returned in 2021 “determined to right that wrong”.

One of the most open and hotly contested classes in the Championship, 25-year-old Eakin took the spoils by 10 points from Ronnie McConnell at the wheel of his Honda Civic Type-R.

Eakin was one of four drivers to record a maximum score across the championship’s four rounds – three of which were single venue meetings – but consistency ensured that he and co-driver Sean Doherty got the nod.

“At the start of the season that was the objective – I was on a mission last year to win the Group N title given what happened to us the previous year,” explained Eakin, who could be tempted back to single-seater racing in the future.

“It was pretty satisfying to finally get that first title, and it came in my third season in the sport, so that is kind of extra special. Losing out on the title in the manner that we in 2019 to Adam Vance gave me that extra motivation to get back out there and give winning the Group N title another go.

“It was close all season and that is what you want as a driver: you want it to be competitive rather than running away with it – at least I do, anyway,” he added.

Eakin doesn’t intend to defend his crown in 2022, however, but will instead pick and choose the rallies he enters. Already on the cards is the Ulster and Donegal rallies – two of the most revered in Irish motorsport.

And depending on how the calendar and work commitments fall, he is keen to return to the forests in his front-wheel-drive Japanese hatch. “I’ve won the title so, for me now, it’s all about moving on to the next thing – I achieved what I set out to achieve,” he said.

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