The opening round of the 2015 FIA Junior World Rally Championship, Rallye Monte-Carlo, back in January saw the emergence of a new young talent onto the world stage. Irishman Daniel McKenna introduced himself to world rallying by winning the opening stage of the Monte Carlo rally by ten seconds and in doing so he forced his JWRC competitors and the wider WRC community to stand up and take notice. Despite his non-finish the 2014 British Rally Champion proved he was a forced to be reckoned with, so where did the story begin for Daniel McKenna?
“Rallying is in the blood,” said the Irishman, who hails from County Monaghan along the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. “My father was involved in the sport from the 70s and it was something I was interested in taking part in. I started competing in motorsport at the age of 10 but my rallying days started when I was 16. I navigated in night navigation trials with guys from my local area as well as co-driving in stage rallies also.”
McKenna’s first taste in the drivers seat was in the same year on rally sprints and loose surface events but it wasn’t long before stage rallying became the priority. “My first stages rally was the 2005 Cavan Stages Rally just after I turned 17. We competed casually over that year and 2006 but in 2007 myself and my co-driver Andrew Greenan decided we would have a go at the Border Rally Championship and selected rounds of the National Championship. We won class 10 in both of those series in a Ford Escort MK2.”
The Irishman upgraded his engine for 2008 but a bad accident in the summer put an end to his season. McKenna was back out in 2009 with more impressive finishes before things really kicked off in 2010. “We narrowly missed out on victory on the national section of the 2010 Donegal International Rally and it was at that point that myself and Andrew realised that we had the talent to compete at a higher level.”
That summer McKenna rented a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, registered for the British Rally Championship and entered the Ulster Rally in a bid to get a Pirelli Star Driver nomination which the Monaghan man achieved. “I remember we were competing against stiff opposition at the shootout. The likes of Craig Breen and Robert Barrable were there, Elfyn Evans eventually won but we were proud of the effort we put in.”
In 2011 the economic recession hit hard and McKenna’s plans to contest a full campaign on the BRC had to be put on hold but things took a turn for the better when in 2012 the Irishman won the Motorsport Ireland Young Driver of the Year Award, the prize money from it enabled McKenna to buy a Ford Fiesta R2 and with Arthur Kierans temporarily taking over the navigating duties the pair contested the British Rally Championship in 2013.
After winning the Rally 2 category in the BRC McKenna received another nomination for the Pirelli Star Driver award and managed to win it giving him a fully funded campaign in the main British Rally Championship field in a Citroen DS3 R3T. The Irishman won the championship after a dramatic final round on the Isle of Man which saw McKenna recover from a high speed crash to take the title. McKenna’s talent was now established and the Irishman was determined to take it further.
“Back in 2012 when I was nominated for the Motorsport Ireland Young Driver Award I told the judges that this award was part of a five year plan. I told them that my plan was to contest the BRC get another Pirelli Star Driver nomination, win the British Rally Championship the following year and try and follow that up on the world stage. When I set a goal I usually achieve it and that’s certainly one thing I can say.”
Moving into 2015 and despite the retirement on the opening round of the Junior Word Rally Championship the Monaghan man is still as ambitious as ever. “I have a committee of people behind me called “Team Daniel” who help out in the background with regards helping to source and secure funding for our JWRC campaign, PR and a number of other things. Myself and Andrew are in a new training regime under Declan Brennan’s Sports Management and his centre of excellence so we have certainly started taking the physical aspect of it a lot more serious also. I believe I can still win the JWRC in 2015 and that is still my aim.”
Keep an eye out for Daniel McKenna. His confidence and ambition have been backed up with his results of the past few years and he is certainly a driver with potential for more success in the future.