King Kelly claims Junior BRC honour

Eamonn Kelly and Conor Mohan fought till the last to take the Junior British Rally Championship title in 2021. Pushing eventual victor William Creighton until the final stage of the final round of the season, they ended their debut in the series as runners up; and worthy ones at that.

Returning in 2022 for another stab, and equipped with the very same Ford Fiesta Rally4, the Irishmen were not about to be outdone again and sailed to the crown with a stellar performance, netting them, like Creighton, a supported drive-in a round of the World Rally Championship behind the wheel of a Hyundai i20 N Rally2 in 2023. What a prize!

But there was an altogether new name at the top of the tree on round one in Clacton and it had a distinctly Norwegian flavour. A scintillating fight for maximum points at the season opener saw Ola Nore Jr take the spoils after a riveting fight with Kelly.

The two Fiesta Rally4 contenders traded times for most of the event with the gap between them never more than 2.5 seconds all rally long. But it would be the Norwegian that took the lead on the penultimate stage of the event, holding on to secure his maiden Junior BRC win on his British

Kelly was soon back out front at the Jim Clark Rally, taking a convincing lead after the second stage on Friday night and was never headed. A tactical Joker for five bonus points also assisted his campaign, taking 30 Junior BRC points away from Scotland and with it, the championship lead.

Last year, Northern Ireland’s Kyle White and Sean Topping were noted for their performances in an ageing Peugeot 208 R2 but would switch to the new generation 208 Rally4 for the 2022 season. The move would see White become Kelly’s closest rival this season and briefly led the Scottish borders event before being overhauled as the rally progressed.

The gravel of the Nicky Grist Stages heralded the arrival of a new charger in the category, courtesy of Australian driver, Max McRae. Co-driven by Mac Kierans, McRae is the son of 1995 BRC champion Alister and is clearly a chip off the old block, going fastest on the opening stage in his Ford Fiesta Rally4

But it wasn’t long before White took the reins, holding a healthy 16-second lead at the halfway point – and he would need it. In a dramatic twist, White would suffer two punctures in two stages, haemorrhaging time to the charging Kelly. Admitting to being “caught sleeping” in the morning, Kelly turned around his fortunes to keep out of trouble and get back up to speed in the afternoon’s loop. Fighting back from fourth place on stage one, Kelly almost overhauled White in the final throws but it wasn’t enough, giving the Peugeot driver his maiden Junior BRC win.

Back to Scotland for the Grampian Forest Rally saw a ding-dong battle between Kelly and White once again, with both crews tied on times over the opening test before Kelly eked out a five-second advantage in the second in his Fiesta Rally4. White responded on the next in a tit-for-tat exchange and that gap was down to just one second ahead of the final loop.

But White’s charge ended on the penultimate test, ripping a brake line off the Peugeot, allowing Kelly to relax over the final stage of the event and secure his and Conor Mohan’s second win to extend their Junior BRC lead.

At this point of the season, reigning Academy Trophy champion Johnnie Mulholland and co-driver Eoin Treacy had been working away in the background, quietly building their pace in their Fiesta Rally4.

Third place on the Jim Clark was a real confidence boost and that would continue across the gravel too, going one better in Aberdeen to take the runner-up spot to Kelly.

Ioan Lloyd and Sion Williams had a miserable run of luck over the opening half of their debut season in the Junior BRC.  Fourth in Clacton was a positive start, but they crashed their Peugeot 208 Rally4 heavily on the Jim Clark. They would be forced to use SuperRally on the Grist and the Grampian, but that would net them third place in Scotland after a fuel leak before the first stage, hampered a better result still.

Rali Ceredigion saw the crowning of two champions on Welsh soil as the battle for the Junior British Rally Championship entered a critical phase. Irishman Eamonn Kelly would have to seal victory if he were to lift the title in Aberystwyth and with two rounds remaining, he could have well been forgiving for backing off in his Fiesta.

But he didn’t. Leading the Junior charge from the third test, Kelly was in a league of his own and despite a brush with a wall during the Sunday morning loop, emerged from the final stage with the all-important win and was met by a rapturous crowd of home supporters who were able to join in the celebrations on securing the coveted Junior BRC title. Kelly receives a supported drive in a World Rally Championship round in 2023 behind the wheel of a Hyundai i20 N Rally2 as his prize for securing the title.

“This feels class,” said Kelly over the line of the final stage.

“I can’t quite believe it, I`m lost for words. It’s been such a dramatic day, so to be here so early on in the championship and taking the title is really special. We have put so much work into this, it’s such a team effort and it’s a credit to everyone around us, it would not have happened without them.”

Co-driver Conor Mohan would have to wait until the Trackrod to secure the co-drivers honours thanks to the Joker points system. White would finish almost a minute down on the Fiesta crew after a tricky weekend in second whilst Lloyd gave Peugeot a two-three to round out the podium. Joseph Kelly and Ronan Comerford arrived on the Junior BRC scene in their 208 Rally4 in Wales, taking fifth in their only JBRC outing of the season.

Ceredigion would also see Kyle McBride seal the Academy Trophy, taking his Fiesta to a second win of the season and fourth Junior BRC crew in the process.

With arguably nothing left to prove, Kelly could have been forgiven for cruising around to ensure Mohan scooped his title too; but there was none of it.

They were head and shoulders above their fellow contenders to take a fourth win of the season on the final appearance in the Junior category.
After Ioan Lloyd and Sion Williams were dispatched with sheared wheel studs, Johnnie Mulholland and Eoin Treacy took second in their Fiesta, albeit over two minutes down on the victors.

With Kelly stepping into a Volkswagen Polo GTi R5, it was a changing of the guard at the Cambrian. The tough gravel test was a rally of attrition after early leaders Fraser Anderson and Shane Byrne were forced to retire with engine issues in their Fiesta Rally4 before the opening gravel stage on Saturday. Ioan Lloyd and Sion Williams assumed that top position but failed to emerge from the second running of Brenig, parking up with a technical issue.

Step forward Johnnie Mulholland and Eoin Treacy who threaded their Fiesta Rally4 through the forests to a trouble-free run and scoop their maiden Junior BRC win, vaulting them to the vice-champion position in the standings.

The Junior BRC returns in 2023, allowing those up to 27 years of age in both R2 and Rally4 machinery the chance to fight for the coveted title. The Academy Trophy for newcomers to the series also makes a comeback.

More information will be released, along with the series regulations in due course.

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