Parliament Buildings on the outskirts of Belfast reverberated to the sound of rallying for the first time in sixteen years for a very special celebration recognising the achievement of local crew William Creighton and Liam Regan.
Back in 2007, this picturesque and historic setting was the location for the start of the World Rally Championships Irish round, when this world-class series last visited Northern Ireland. Marcus Gronholm won the opening stage that year, which was a spectator special around Stormont Estate, aboard his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car.
As special and memorable as this event was, Thursday 5 October 2023 was a much more special occasion that also saw a Ford rally car driven within the gates of Stormont. This time it was a less powerful Ford, as Moira driving ace, William Creighton, parked his Ford Fiesta Rally 3 outside the iconic Parliament Building ahead of a reception hosted by North Down DUP MLA, Stephen Dunne.
This reception was one of special recognition and celebration of what William, co-driven by Belfast’s Liam Regan, have achieved in 2023. This year saw the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy crew, who have been together for around a decade, be crowned as Junior World Rally Champions at the final round in Greece.
We all know that Northern Ireland is no stranger to producing world-class athletes. Rhys McClenaghan has just defended his pommel horse World Gold medal and Bethany Firth brought home Gold in the World 200m Medley this year. Colin Turkington is a four-time British Touring Car Champion, Jonathan Rea has multiple World Superbike championships and Rory McIlroy has just led Europe to Ryder Cup victory.
And in the not so distant past, Carl Frampton, Darren Clarke, Mark Allen, and the Dunlop’s were breaking records and making headlines. Going back a little further, George Best and Willie John McBride all stand out as sporting hero’s who have exceeded in their sporting achievements.
But becoming a world champion is no mean feat, and when it comes to the sport of global rallying, William and Liam have made history!
By becoming the first crew from Northern Ireland to bring the title home, they have surpassed what Dungannon’s Kris Meeke and Fermanagh drivers Niall McShea, Alastair Fisher, and Jon Armstrong managed to achieve within the Junior World Rally Championship over the years.
Stephen Dunne MLA has a great passion for all things sport, especially rallying. When walking into a stage, I almost always bump into Stephen, who’s standing in the ditches well before the first car is due, such is his genuine support for rallying.
“It’s a great honour to have William and Liam here and celebrate their success on winning the World Championship,” Stephen stated. “It is no mean achievement. And it’s an incredible for two athletes from Northern Ireland to win such a prestigious championship. And we really wish them well for the years ahead and we hope to see them on the world stage for many years.
“And again it’s just an incredible achievement and Northern Ireland is very, very proud of our latest Junior World Rally Champions. We want to say a big congratulations and keep ‘er lit!”
“It’s pretty cool!” explained William Creighton when standing in the steps of Stormont looking at his rally car parked on the ground below.
“Yeah. Look, it’s been it’s been a really nice few weeks celebrating. Obviously there’s a lot of work that goes into what we did this year, and in the last few years, so it’s a big thank you to everyone who supported me.
“A lot of effort goes in just to make the start lines, never mind to get a result like this. So it’s my own family, the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy, DGM, Race & Rally, there’s several other sponsors that help me out whenever I’m trying to do a bit of testing back home as well.
“It’s good, and now we get to look forward to next year and try and put something together. Obviously the next step, you know everything gets even more difficult and even more commitment, but let’s see.”
As part of his Junior WRC title prize, William won a drive on four rounds of the championship next season with M Sport in the WRC2 category aboard a Ford Fiesta Rally 2 car.
“Even to have that is amazing and we’ve got 200 tyres courtesy of Pirelli so that covers us for tyres for the season. So to try and make that into a full programme, there’s a lot more to do, but to have that to begin with is a great start.”
On this special recognition, co-driver Liam Regan commented, “We’ve had maybe two or three weeks since Greece and it’s maybe subsided a wee bit, but honestly, thanks to Stephen here for being invited up to Stormont.
“Being from Belfast, this is really special for me. To have our achievement recognised in this building and by Stephen, and the effort he has went to today, it is really humbling. To have William’s car out the front here of Stormont is pretty special and it brings it home as to what we have done.
Continuing, “We have Davy [Greer] and Raymond [Moore] here as well as William’s family. So yeah, it is a really special day and honestly I never thought we would get to experience something like this. We are over the moon and maybe we’ll keep the celebrations going for another couple of weeks.
“Oh, wonderful!” said William’s Dad, Niall, on their JWRC win. “We are so proud of William and Liam and what they’ve achieved. Yeah, this journey started a long, long time ago when William did karting at Nutts Corner and that has developed over the years until this situation that they’ve worked so hard to get together and they are Junior World Champions. So we’re just absolutely delighted for them.”
Known throughout the globe for his rallying adventures, Bobby Willis, who was heavily involved with the planning and running of the 2007 Stormont event said, “It’s just fantastic to see these two young guys, seeing the smiles on their faces and us all realising just how wonderful they’ve been and what a fantastic job they’ve done and how far they’ve come to bring rallying to Northern Ireland in this level.
“And it’s just a shame that we still haven’t got a [round of the] world championship here for them to compete on home soil. But a really wonderful achievement for them and it makes everybody proud.”