Josh McErlean will get his first experience of driving the new I20 N Rally2 car on gravel in Portugal

Kilrea’s Josh McErlean says it is inevitable his competitive instinct will take over when he returns to Rali Terras d’Aboboreira this week despite having started the gravel event only once before.

McErlean has entered the rally – which is based out of Amarante in the northern half of Portugal, and is all-new for this season – to familiarise himself with Hyundai’s i20 N Rally2 car on the loose. On his first visit 12 months ago, he sat as high as eighth before going on to finish just outside the top 10. 

The mileage is doubly important as the roads and terrain are going to be largely similar to what the 22-year-old will be faced with when he heads to Rally Portugal towards the end of next month.

It will be the second of his seven scheduled appearances in WRC2 with James Fulton during 2022; their first came at February’s Rally Sweden with backing from sponsors and Motorsport Ireland.

“We haven’t competed on gravel since Portugal last year so the priority is to get a good feeling in the car – but I am very confident the feeling will come early,” said McErlean, who will be able to call on Hyundai Motorsport for help as a member of its Customer Racing Junior Driver Programme.  

“The key goal is finding the car’s sweet spot as far as gravel set-up goes, however, we won’t find this until we are driving the car fast. Everything works that bit better when you are driving well. Rali Terras d’Aboboreira is being used as a test event and we have to remember that throughout. 

“It’s the third round of the Portuguese Championship and we know how competitive it is looking at the results and also the recent Azores Rally, the first round of the European Rally Championship.

“But when you want to be the best and get to the very top of this sport you never ever travel to places just to make up the numbers – I wouldn’t enjoy rallying if I wasn’t competitive,” he added.

“As I said: the main priority is to get a good feeling in the car. Do that and the stage times and results will follow that. Every event we compete in this season is important to me and the entire team because we are all trying to maximise everything and get the most from these opportunities.

“There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes from the whole team and I am really excited to get the car onto gravel so that we can push forward into next month’s WRC2 event in Portugal.”

Rali Terras d’Aboboreira begins on Friday morning with a shakedown and qualifying stage to help determine road positions for that day’s three stages. A further six timed tests await on Saturday.   

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