2021 Junior British Rally Championship runner-up Eamonn Kelly will drive a Volkswagen Polo R5 on the Mayo Stages Rally. Mayo’s National Rally Championship opener will be the 23-year-old’s debut in four-wheel-drive machinery.
Mayo Motor Club has received plenty of interest in its eight-stage asphalt event with entries filling within days of its release date.
For Kelly, he admitted the chance to drive the Polo R5, which is usually rallied by his father Donagh, was too good to miss.
“Being in an R5 is something we had planned to do at some stage this year,” explained Kelly, “but maybe later on in the season. I certainly didn’t expect the opportunity to come so early.
“I was focusing on front-wheel-drive, which I still am. I’ll be going to West Cork in the Rally4 Fiesta because it is good seat-time for the BRC.
“I was given the opportunity [to do Mayo in an R5] and I was obviously going to take it. It is a brilliant opportunity to learn with no pressure at all.
“The switch from my usual Ford Fiesta to the Polo R5 has been backed by our long-term partners Donnelly Group Volkswagen. It is great to be able to showcase the car for them in Mayo.”
The young Donegal driver’s second attempt at Junior BRC doesn’t commence until April’s Tendring and Clacton Rally. Kelly will be one of the favourites in the competitive series after picking up two wins last season.
BRC’s later-than-normal start gives Kelly time to gain more experience in both his Rally4 Ford Fiesta and the Polo R5. The Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy member has briefly sampled R5 machinery at a couple of test days but only for a few runs on each occasion.
This weekend’s Mayo Stages Rally will be Kelly’s first time driving it in anger. It is fair to say that he is looking forward to it.
“Everything is so sensitive in the R5 and it requires minimal inputs compared to a Rally4 car.
“You have to drive a Rally4 car on the door handles whereas this is very relaxed and smooth.
“The R5 gives you the feeling of having extra performance and control in every aspect. It is just a matter of trying to find out how to use that in braking and cornering.”
Monaghan’s Conor Mohan continues to co-drive for Kelly. Mohan has sampled four-wheel-drive before but R5 rallying will still be a step-up for him as well.
Although Junior BRC remains their main focus, Kelly is hopeful a positive showing in Mayo will be followed by further outings in the Polo R5.
The rally itself comprises an impressive 97 stage-kilometres across its eight tests. The Claremorris based event has over 25 R5s and World Rally Cars on its entry list.
Kelly has competed twice before in Mayo, once in a Class 11F Honda Civic and once in an older specification Ford Fiesta. Kelly and Mohan claimed a class win in Mayo back in 2020, finishing 15th overall in their front-wheel-drive Fiesta.
With the entry list for Mayo Stages Rally brimming with top quality drivers, the young crew will have the perfect chance to benchmark themselves against the best. If Kelly keeps building his rally portfolio at this rate, it won’t be long until he becomes the one to watch in Ireland.
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Photos courtesy of Sheals Photography and Mark McCullagh