The future for rallying’s youngest stars is bright

The Junior 1000 Championship opens the door to rallying for those aged 14 and over and a bumper entry has been obtained for the championship opener. (Image: Cian Donnellan)

As the excitement peaks on Sunday morning and a packed 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 honor of removing the cars and than Getting onto the stages first lies with some of Ireland’s youngest rally entrants.

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

The J1000 Series has thrived since its inception, with the competition’s final season now attracting fifteen entries for the inaugural event, many of which will be driven at high speed on controlled rally stages by drivers too young to even compete to apply for a provisional participation road legal!

The J1000 formula was developed in the UK to bring ever younger drivers into the world of rallying and nurture natural talent from an early age. The Irish Forest Rally Championship saw a tremendous opportunity to introduce the competitive structure to the 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 subject to a fairly strict set of vehicle regulations designed to both reduce costs and encourage competition, no other rally championship in Ireland has a younger entrant base. Tires are strictly controlled, as are many mechanical parts, with a single control tire being supplied by Ears Motorsport in Mallow, another generous supporter of the championship.

For many of the drivers, the J1000 Series marks the start of their stage rally careers. As such, the rally community extends a big helping hand with plenty of help and guidance along the way. The key to this and the greatest mentor of all is the Navigator. While he usually plays a busy role in a car at the best of times, the passenger is vital in a J1000 car.

The Killarney Forestry Rally roster includes young talent from all four corners of the island. While some drivers such as Jack Brennan (Kilkenny), Mossie Costello (Kerry) and Letisha Conn (NI) have enjoyed a run to the Irish Forest Rally Championship in 2020, the rest of the field will be lining up for their first championship run.

For the youngest unlicensed drivers, the navigator will take care of the non-competitive sections of the event where the cars can be seen on public roads, e.g. B. between the stages and on the way to the service stops.

In addition to logistical support, “Navi’s” offer a helping hand in understanding stage timing, technical support and guidance on the various rules of the sport. Each navigator, in order to provide maximum assistance, must be reasonably experienced and have previously completed several events.

When you meet and speak to any of the J1000 crews during a rally event, the enthusiasm and excitement of being able to start a full-fledged rally car on a fast and flowing Forest Rally stage is contagious. Competitive pressure and early shyness are so often replaced by a bright smile at church or at the end of the rally.

With over 60km of high-speed action ahead of us this weekend, it’s no wonder these youngsters are feverishly looking forward to the start of Sunday morning’s stage one.

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

Jon Armstrong of Northern Ireland started the J1000 in a Nissan Micra and within six years was competing in the World Rally Championship behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta R5, becoming WRC Esports World Champion in 2018 and just missing out on the Junior WRC title in 2021 .

With a healthy grid and a varied line-up of cars, the Junior 1000 are an incredibly determined group of competitors with big ambitions and stages well worth attending. What is certain, however, is that you will be keeping a very close eye on the future stars of Irish and possibly world rallying!

Things get started in Castleisland this weekend with the Killarney Forestry Rally on Sunday 20th June.

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