MI Academy drivers’ programs could be carried into 2021

Prestigious Billy Coleman Award deferral also possible


Three of Irish rallying’s most promising young drivers could see their incomplete programs – and funding from Motorsport Ireland worth tens of thousands of pounds – carried across to next season if the sport fails to resume before the end of the year.

If that were to happen it would also mean the Billy Coleman Award being put on hold for 2020, with no new winner crowned for the first time since the initiative came into being exactly 20 years ago.

Established to honor the success of Irish Tarmac and British champion Billy Coleman, some of the title recipients include four-time British winner Keith Cronin and Hyundai Motorsport ace, Craig Breen.

The national calendar has been on hold since March following the introduction of lockdown measures by the British and Irish governments that were designed to help contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Events on mainland Europe have also been affected due to fears surrounding the respiratory illness.

To date, the three drivers that make-up Motorsport Ireland’s Rally Academy have only completed two events between them this year. James Wilson won the opening round of the Irish Forestry Championship, while Josh McErlean’s assault on the British Rally Championship ended in retirement on the Cambrian Rally.

The programme’s torchbearer – Callum Devine – has yet to begin his European Rally Championship journey following the quickfire postponement of the Azores Rally, Canary Islands Rally and Rally Liepāja.

“Discussions [about a way forward] are at an early stage,” said Award and Academy co-ordinator, Sean McHugh, “but if there is no rallying [before the end of 2020] there can be no new Billy Coleman Award winner, so, hopefully, the same plans remain in place [for 2021].

“All monies committed remain in place and all three programs will recommence when they are allowed to following [government] advice.”

McHugh – who has backing from Sport Ireland, and John Coyne through the Team Ireland Foundation – insists he is in no way disappointed at seeing a year’s worth of planning being stymied by COVID-19.

Instead, he has been looking for positives and paid tribute to those working in Hyundai Motorsport’s Customer Racing department. The Korean car marker is the agreed car supplier to the Rally Academy.

“They have been very encouraging,” admitted McHugh. “What we now have is a long-term plan from Junior 1000, Junior 1600 and R2 up to R5.

“There is now a clear pathway from 14 years of age where a young driver – and their family – can see where they need to go – car wise – in order to progress in the sport of rallying. And, of course, the Hyundai involvement gives a very clear goal.”