Future is bright for rallying’s youngest stars

Junior 1000 Championship opens door to rallying for those from 14 years old and a bumper entry has been received for the championship opener. (Picture: Cian Donnellan)

As the excitement hits fever pitch on Sunday morning, and as a full field of competitors sits giddy at the prospect of taking on the thrilling challenge of the opening round of the 2022 Motorsport Ireland Forest Rally Championship, the Killarney Forestry Rally, the honour of leading the cars away and being the first to hit the stages lies with some of Ireland’s youngest rally competitors.

The Junior 1000 Championship crews will get the ultimate opportunity to showcase their burgeoning talents on the day to a large audience of spectators, media and rally followers.

The J1000 series has flourished since its inception, with the latest season of the competition now attracting a bumper fifteen entries for the first event, many of these being driven at high speed on controlled Rally Stages by drivers still too young to even apply for a provisional road license!

The J1000 formula was designed in the UK as a means to bring ever younger drivers into the rallying world, and to help encourage natural talent from an earlier age. The Irish Forest Rally Championship saw a massive opportunity to introduce the competitive structure to Irish shores in 2017, and their foresight has proved fruitful with an ever-growing interest in the series.

Open to drivers between the ages of 14 and 18 and conforming to a reasonably strict set of car regulations, designed to both reduce costs and encourage competition, no other rally championship in Ireland has a younger competitor base. Tyres, like a lot of the mechanical parts, are also strictly controlled, with a single control tyre being supplied by Ears Motorsport in Mallow, again another generous supporter of the championship.

For many of the drivers, the J1000 series marks the beginning of their Stage Rally careers. As such, a huge helping hand is extended by the rallying community, with plenty of help and guidance along the way. Key to this, and the biggest mentor of all, is the navigator. While usually a busy role at the best of times inside a car, the co-driver in a J1000 car is vital.

The entry list for the Killarney Forestry Rally includes young talent from all four corners of the island. While some drivers like Jack Brennan (Kilkenny), Mossie Costello (Kerry) and Letisha Conn (NI) have experienced an Irish Forest Rally Championship round in 2020, the rest of the field will take to the start line for their first championship round.

For the youngest drivers who do not hold a driving license, the navigator handles the non-competitive sections of the event that will see the cars on the public road, such as between stages and on the way to service halts.

As well as logistical support, ‘navi’s’ provide a helping hand in understanding stage timing, technical support and guidance on the various rules of the sport. Each navigator, as a means of offering maximum help, must be reasonably experienced and have completed several events beforehand.

Meeting and talking to any of the J1000 crews during a rally event, the buzz and excitement of being able to launch a fully-fledged rally car down a fast and flowing Forest Rally stage is contagious. The pressure of competition and early shyness is so often replaced with a beaming smile come service or at the end of the rally.

With over 60KM of high speed action ahead this weekend, it’s no wonder that these youngsters are looking forward frantically to getting to the start of stage one on Sunday morning.

For many of the crews, the true aspiration is to progress to the higher echelons of the sport, and consistently the J1000 formula has been an incredible launch pad for some of the brightest talent that Rallying has to offer.

Jon Armstrong, from Northern Ireland, began in J1000 in a Nissan Micra, and within six years was competing in the World Rally Championship at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta R5, as well as becoming the 2018 WRC E-Sports World Champion and narrowly missing out on the Junior WRC title in 2021.

With a healthy field of entries and a varied range of cars, the Junior 1000’s are an incredibly determined group of competitors with big aspirations, and well worth catching out on the stages. What is for certain though is that you very well will be watching the future stars of Irish and potentially World Rallying!

Things kick off in Castleisland this weekend with the Killarney Forestry Rally on Sunday 20th.