Breen halfway to dream Circuit of Ireland victory on ERC thriller
Craig Breen is halfway to his dream of winning the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally, as he leads his home round of the FIA European Rally Championship overnight, albeit by a slender one-second margin.
Co-driven by Scott Martin, the 25-year-old Peugeot Rally Academy driver took the lead on the second stage and held it until the end of the day, despite an frustrating pop-off value problem with his 208 T16 – which meant he had to ease off the throttle when he didn’t want to, to allow the system to reset itself.
Breen is one second ahead of Robert Barrable, who has enjoyed a fantastic day in his CA1 Sport run Ford Fiesta R5. The Dublin driver set fastest time on the Qualifying Stage, elected to run first on the road and took the lead on the opening stage. When the driver’s side window fell out on SS2, wind made his eyes water and was a big distraction, until all was repaired in service in Belfast’s Titanic Quarterafter SS3. A faultless drive in the afternoon has given Barrable hopes of stealing ERC glory for himself, and promises to push tomorrow.
ERC title leader Kajetan Kajetanowicz’s Circuit of Ireland debut almost came to an end on the second corner of the event, after a big moment in his LOTOS Rally Team Fiesta R5. After describing the stages as “jaw-dropping” and Hamilton’s Folly as “probably the best Tarmac test I have driven in my life”, the Pole is in a strong third place, just 16.8s behind the leader.
Just 17.2s separates the Moffett brothers, Josh and Sam, as they battle for fourth place in their identical Ford Fiesta RRCs. Stephen Wright is sixth, Jaromír Tarabus the top-placed ŠKODA Fabia S2000 driver in seventh and ERC rookie Charles Martin eighth for Peugeot.
Other Fabia S2000s hit various problems – Marty McCormack had brake issues and an early spin and stopped to change a puncture on SS2, Joseph McGonigie went off twice on SS2 but continued and Antonín Tlusťák was delayed with intercom problems.
Alexey Lukyanuk’s first ERC Tarmac rally hit a glitch when his Fiesta R5 broke a drivershaft under braking on SS2, but his confidence grew the more kilometres he did.
Robert Consani retired his Citroën DS3 R5 from third place with gearbox problems after SS4, the Frenchman showing enormous potential in his new car after a short 40 kilometre pre-event test. Alastair Fisher was also a big name retirement, after crashing his Ford Fiesta R5 on SS3.
The spectacular Tarmac stages in Northern Ireland received huge praise from all drivers, especially the famous Hamilton’s Folly stage, with its high-speed crests and jumps. The weather made it even more of a challenge, with changing grip levels – wet and muddy stages in the morning and drier, but just as slippery roads, in the afternoon.
Good ERC2 Friday for Hideg
Hungarian driver Krisztián Hideg enjoyed a fantastic day on “mad roads” in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, to head into the overnight halt 48.1s in front in ERC2. Vojtěch Štajf is second, despite a slow rear left puncture on SS1, an overshoot on SS3 and damaging a wheel on SS6 in his Subaru Duck Czech National Team Impreza WRX STI. Dávid Botka is third after a solid performance in his Lancer Evolution IX, while Tibor Érdi is fourth in an Evo X, despite an off on SS4. Hedges helped keep glamour model Inessa Tushkanova on the road, after an adventurous first day of Irish rallying in her new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.
Local hero Armstrong enjoys healthy ERC Junior lead overnight
Northern Ireland’s Jon Armstrong holds a healthy lead in ERC Junior and ERC3, after an excellent opening-leg performance in his Peugeot 208 R2 – despite finishing the day with the engine not revving as it should. Emil Bergkvist was surprised to have led after the first stage in his ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team Adam R2, but having driven “on the right side of the limit” all day, the Swede completed day one in second position, 33.4s behind. Chris Ingram suffered from a lack of confidence on the damp roads, yet he is still a challenging third in his Peugeot UK 208. Marijan Griebel is fourth in the second ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team Adam, just 0.4s behind. Norway’s Steve Røkland is fifth; a very impressive position, as he did no pre-event test. Mattias Adielsson’s 208 left the start line of SS1 with a severe misfire, costing him 50s. After a loose connector was reattached, he set a good time on SS2, before an overshoot on SS3 completed a dramatic morning. Calvin Beattie put his Fiesta R2 off the road on SS2, bending the steering arm and losing 10 minutes. Julius Tannert ran wide on SS3, hit a bank and inflicted damage on his Adam R2 – losing 40s in the process. Worse was to follow when a broke gearbox on SS4 put him out. A distraught Gino Bux retired his Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 208 on SS2 after picking up a puncture and then understeering into the undergrowth, breaking the steering.
Saturday’s route features eight stages, covering a distance of 128.18 kilometres, and contains two runs over the rally’s longest test – the 26.02 kilometres of McGaffins Corner – in addition to two passes through Lisburn’s town centre stage. The finish podium celebrations take place at Titanic Quarter in Belfast at 18h35.