Eamonn Kelly will step up to the World Rally Championship in 2023, competing in Junior WRC.
The 2022 Billy Coleman Award winner starts his campaign on the snowy stages of Rally Sweden in February.
WRC’s entry-level championship, Junior WRC has been utilised by drivers like Sebastien Loeb, Sebastien Ogier, and Elfyn Evans as a first step to much greater things on the world stage.
In fact, graduates from Junior WRC have combined to produce a remarkable total of 440 WRC podiums.
Kelly will drive a four-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta Rally3 in the five-round series, identical to his rival competitors.
Junior WRC’s Rally3 Fiestas are built and maintained by M-Sport Poland.
It has been a rapid rise to the WRC for the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy member.
Just 18 months ago, Kelly made his gravel debut to help secure a runner-up finish in 2021’s Junior British Rally Championship.
A year later, the 24-year-old went one better, becoming the Junior British Rally Champion in his Ford Fiesta Rally4 with two rounds to spare.
Two wins on gravel and two on asphalt showed the Donegal driver had quickly mastered both surfaces and paved the way towards clinching Motorsport Ireland’s famed Billy Coleman Award for young rally drivers.
Four Volkswagen Polo R5 appearances complemented Kelly’s 2022 Junior BRC campaign. A brace of podiums on the Circuit of Munster and the Cambrian Rally proved his pace and adaptability in the higher Rally2 category.
Now he’s ready for an altogether different challenge.
“Junior WRC will be a massive step up considering I have never rallied outside Ireland or the UK before,” explained Kelly.
“I believe it is the best place for me to go to further myself and my rallying career. It is a hugely exciting challenge with a lot of firsts – I can’t wait.
“Winning the 2022 Billy Coleman Award and the support that comes with it through the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy has put me in the perfect position to take on a challenge like Junior WRC.
“The past two years of my rally career have been very positive with good success so I feel the time is right to make a jump like this.”
Kelly will benefit from a continued in-car partnership with Monaghan co-driver Conor Mohan. The young duo have competed together since 2018, starting in a front-wheel-drive Honda Civic on national rallies in Ireland.
“Conor and I have been on a big journey over the past four years. We have built up a really good relationship and I know we will both be giving everything towards our latest challenge.
“We will be up against the best young rally drivers in the world, we want to benchmark ourselves against them, and hopefully bring our performances up to the top level.
“Junior WRC also gives us the chance to compete on full world championship events. It will let us rally on terrain that is completely new to us.
“The snow in Sweden, Sardinia’s rough gravel, and Estonia’s flat-out stages – I have never experienced rallies like this so I know I will learn a lot competing in Junior WRC and it will make me a more rounded driver.”
Kelly has entered next weekend’s Arctic Lapland Rally in preparation for Junior WRC’s Rally Sweden opener. The 245-kilometre event will be his first time to rally on snow and marks his debut behind the wheel of M-Sport Poland’s Ford Fiesta Rally3.
Both aspects of the Arctic Rally experience will be invaluable as Kelly heads for Rally Sweden’s unique snow stages that kickstart Junior WRC’s one-make Rally3 Fiesta series.
Triple British Rally Champion, Matt Edwards, will act as Kelly’s co-driver inside the Arctic Circle. The pair will work together to develop Kelly’s skills on the snow.
“Rally Sweden offers my first big test in Junior WRC,” admitted Kelly, “as I haven’t much experience at all of driving on snow stages.
“It is such a different discipline of driving, you have to constantly carry speed, let the car move around in a controlled way, and be at one with the car.
“I need to focus on how to write pacenotes for these stages, get used to the Rally3 Fiesta, and of course get more comfortable driving on snow.”
Croatia Rally, Rally Italy, Rally Estonia, and Acropolis Rally Greece complete Junior WRC’s five-round package for 2023.
“I’d like to thank everybody in Motorsport Ireland and the MI Rally Academy for the support they have already given.
“Winning the Billy Coleman Award has given me this opportunity, it provides the incentive to compete in WRC, and I’m incredibly proud to be able to represent my country at an international level.
“My sponsors – Circet, Northgate Vehicle Hire, Donnelly Group, Trailer Stuff, Balloo Hire, GMG Asset Valuation, and MCR Group – have also played a huge part in making these plans possible and I can’t wait to get this exciting chapter of my rallying journey started in just a few days.”
2023 Junior WRC calendar:
1 Rally Sweden – 09-12 February
2 Croatia Rally – 20-23 April
3 Rally Italy – 01-04 June
4 Rally Estonia – 20-23 July
5 Rally Greece – 07-10 September