BREEN HALFWAY TO DREAM 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.
Saturday’s route features 10 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.
Text and photo: www.fiaerc.com