BRC3 ace Johnnie Mulholland is eager to see how he stacks up against the asphalt experts of Belgium, as he heads for the impressive Ardeca Ypres Rally in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally3 for the very first time.
The 2021 Academy Trophy champion made the switch to the Rally3 category in 2023 and has spent the opening two rounds of the season acclimatising to both four-wheel-drive and the new-driving style required in the step up from his Rally4 Fiesta from last season.
With the benefit of one gravel and one sealed surface event under his belt in the Rally3, the 25-year-old driver from Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland now heads for the unforgiving and often gruelling Ypres Rally for his second shot at the event and is looking forward to seeing how he fares against the rapid home heroes.
“I have been looking forward to this one all year, it’s a totally different challenge from the Tarmac roads at home” says Mulholland.
“The cuts are insane, the speed is usually pretty insane too and the fans have always seemed to be pretty passionate and excited by the event, which provides an amazing atmosphere on most of the roads we’re on.
The competition is likely to be sizeable and unknown out in Ypres for the Northern Irishman.
“It is definitely going to be tough but its nice to see a few more Rally 3’s out to help up our pace. I think a certain Belgian Maestro [Patrick Snijers] is even out in one which could be interesting to see, as well as a fellow Irishman (and Car Dealer) so that surely has to be where the main battle is!”
It’s a big rally too – almost double that of the Jim Clark and Mulholland is confident he can cope with the switch in schedule.
“It is a long event, one I have done once before which is a help in itself. I think any experience of it is beneficial because it is so different. I quite enjoy the longer events though, a lot of our Irish international rounds are lengthy, usually over 2 days or 3 in the case of Donegal, so we know what it takes in order to get to and complete events like those.”
The additional seat time that brings is very much welcome too.
“As everyone knows, seat time is everything and the more we get, the more comfortable I’m going to be. With a few tarmac rounds in a row, it’ll be nice to get settled in with the car without having to switch between setups every round. In terms of hopes, I know there so much more pace to come out of the car and I have seen the results that a well driven one can have, so I want to try and get close to that level. Its a very capable machine”
The M-Sport Ford Fiesta had been the market leader in the Rally3 category, but Renault Sport introduced the new Clio to the class in recent months which has proven popular in mainland Europe. Currently, six Fiestas and two Clios will go head-to-head for class honours in Belgium – let battle commence!