Grace O'Brien - A Year in Review
Looking back on 2022, it was jam packed with events and much success.
But it started with a phone call I received in late 2021 which set the course for 2022’s events.
Ryan Caldwell, a rising star in drifting, was making the transition to rally driving and given his experience and expertise behind the wheel, we hatched a plan for 2022.
To maximise seat time, we tackled both surfaces; gravel and asphalt, and registered for both the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship and Irish Forestry Championship with a few additional rallies that we both enjoyed.
A routine was quickly established where weekends were devoted to testing, recces and rallies and weekdays leant themselves to completing entry forms, preparing event schedules, and bargaining with work for time off!
The plan – to finish every rally with no drama, become familiar with pace notes, the new Ford Fiesta Rally 4 car, our team around us and the competition – simple!
We started at the Galway International Rally with a surprise class win and we were beaming from ear to ear! Unexpected but delighted in the wet, mucky, and challenging conditions.
The following two events were gravel events, surfaces we both enjoy. Next up was the West Cork International Rally, always a favourite of mine with some of the most iconic and scenic stages there are to offer. We got a tad overeager and put the car on its roof in Ardfield. A quick glance up from the pacenotes as we rolled, I could see that we chose the best spot to roll with plenty of spectators to get us moving again! We managed to regain composure and finish second in the class that weekend.
We continued to the Circuit of Ireland with another class win. But we were hampered with brake issues in the Rally of the Lakes with flames licking in the window at me making things too hot to handle in the Rally4! By Donegal International it was becoming apparent that we were in with a shout of winning the class and the incredible prize on offer by the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship; a chance to compete in a round of the ERC championship in a Rally4 car run by M-Sport Poland, the stuff of dreams. That was enough to focus the mind and on our next event, the Moonraker Forest Rally, we tasted champagne and finished second 2WD overall.
By the time we reached the final round of the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, the math’s were done but the nerves were high. As we tested the night before the event, drama struck, and the car started to sulk; it was massively down on power. With little time to investigate, we just had to finish the event to claim the overall class win but that was easier said than done! Even as we rolled over the finish line we didn’t have time to stop and take it in, the priority was to get to the final control. And then it finally sunk in, we had achieved a remarkable feat in just one year! ITC Rally 4 Champions and I had won the FIA ERT 4 Celtic Rally Trophy as the co-driver.
I couldn’t let the year go without a run in the infamous “TAZ” with Ruairi Maguire in the woods, an able pilot with whom I’ve competed with for 10 years. And then one final round in Omagh to seal the Rally 4 class win for Ryan in the Irish Forestry Championship. And the icing on the cake, the ITC prize - an entry to Rally RACC Catalunya. The experience I will never forget, and will forever be thankful for. The crowds, the stages, the razzmatazz, just incredible.
So, 16 events later; a Rally 4 International Tarmac title, an Irish Forestry title, a class win in “TAZ” and an FIA ERT 4 Celtic Rally Trophy, a pretty good year!
I cannot forget the incredible tuition I receive as a member of the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy. To have such experience as Paul Nagle, Greg Shinnors and Rory Kennedy at the end of the phone is fantastic and it’s a brilliant initiative to help move the sport forward and help competitors to get to the next level.
Looking ahead to 2023, and I would love to do a few more events in Europe. I won’t make West Cork this year as I have confirmed my place in the Stellantis Rally Cup in Belgium, in a Peugeot Rally4 car. It’s a 5 round championship and it’s a challenge I am relishing.
But I want to thank Cork Motor Club for the support that I have received to date and wish them every success in the West Cork International Rally this year.