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Motor Sport News - - British Gt Preview - RE­SULTS Cir­cuit of Ire­land In­ter­na­tional Rally Qual­i­fy­ing stage (In­ter­na­tional only)

That’s the best piece of Tar­mac in the world,” claimed a wide-eyed Craig Breen at the fin­ish of The Glens. The 19-mile test proved to be one of the high­lights of the Cir­cuit of Ire­land Rally, and it was the de­cid­ing point at which Breen and British co-driver Scott Martin in­her­ited the lead of the rally he would go on to win for a sec­ond suc­ces­sive year.

The deal for Breen to con­test the rally was con­cluded only 10 min­utes be­fore the dead­line for en­tries, with Ir­ish Tar­mac cham­pion Eu­gene Don­nelly key to help­ing to put things in place along with David Greer Motorsport. As the rally kicked off af­ter the open­ing cer­e­mony in Lis­burn there was no doubt that the home spec­ta­tors were grate­ful. Not only for Breen, but for the scin­til­lat­ing en­try pro­vided by the Euro­pean, British and Ir­ish Tar­mac cham­pi­onships merg­ing for the first time since a Colin Mcrae win in 1991.

Af­ter an event­ful shake­down stage caked in mud, it was El­fyn Evans who was quick­est and, there­fore, he got the chance to choose his start­ing po­si­tion at the cer­e­mony. He chose the num­ber one spot, with Breen down in sixth.

Evans, who had won all three of the ral­lies he’d en­tered in his Fi­esta R5 this year, took the early lead. The Welsh­man won in Mid Wales on the British Rally Cham­pi­onship opener, but this event was al­ways go­ing to be a tough one with the level of ‘lo­cal’ com­pe­ti­tion plus some very ca­pa­ble asphalt ad­di­tions.

How­ever, the Dol­gel­lau driver rev­elled in the tricky con­di­tions in the first two tests. Breen was around six sec­onds slower on both and it looked like the writ­ing was on the wall. Much had been made of the DMACK tyres pre-event, but they worked well early on and Evans is a master of mixed con­di­tions: think back to Cor­sica, 2015.

He ex­tended his lead through the sec­ond test, 12.4s up, and Breen was down in sixth on that stage. It seemed noth­ing could go wrong for Evans and his ma­jes­tic start to the year.

How­ever, not long into SS3 Evans had pulled off. A warn­ing light sig­ni­fied the need to stop and on closer in­spec­tion the al­ter­na­tor belt had bro­ken and the rally for him and co-driver Craig Parry was over. It was a bit­ter end to his vic­tory fight.

To the fore came Ka­je­tan Ka­je­tanow­icz. Last year’s Euro­pean Rally cham­pion took Breen down to the last stage in 2015 and it was left to him to take the chal­lenge to the ram­pant Ir­ish­man, who’s time on The Glens was over a sec­ond a mile quicker than Ka­je­tanow­icz. His eyes were on stalks at stage end, clearly he’d never driven a piece of road like it. He con­tin­ued to push hard through the day ad­mirably, giv­ing ev­ery­thing he had. But Breen con­tin­ued to as­sert his ad­van­tage, the muddy asphalt made worse by cars ahead on the road prov­ing no is­sue.

Breen was quick­est on stages four and five to in­crease the lead to 36.1s. With just a short run through the New­tow­nards TT stage left be­fore the day was fin­ished, it seemed the rally was al­ready tied up in favour of Breen and Martin. But this rally isn’t that easy.

The short 1.4-mile test proved one of the most dif­fi­cult stages of the day. It caught out a whole host of driv­ers, in­clud­ing the Water­ford man as the sur­face was al­most like ice in places. A pirou­ette for Breen wasn’t the quick­est way around and the lead to Ka­je­tanow­icz was cut to just over 20s.

With the ad­van­tage eroded slightly, Ka­je­tanow­icz had to push on Satur­day morn­ing, but half of his job was done for him. Breen went with a “con­ser­va­tive” choice of su­per-soft Miche­lins, but it was the wrong choice. The lack of rain meant the tyres were dif­fi­cult to switch on and look af­ter si­mul­ta­ne­ously. At the re­group af­ter the third stage of Satur­day morn­ing the cov­ers were bald and the lead just 8.4s. It was a won­der he got through the pro­ceed­ing stage, and he did so claw­ing back two sec­onds on the Lo­tos R5 driver af­fec­tion­ately known as Katjo, if still slower than Evans over­all.

Evans had restarted un­der Rally2 con­di­tions. As if to prove the lead battle could well have been de­cided in his favour, he topped six stages out of seven he fin­ished to as­sert his supremacy in what turned out to be an ex­tended test. But los­ing the rear of his R5 on some mud meant the rally ended in a wall on SS12.

Breen re­mained con­fi­dent and said as much, the sec­ond to last ser­vice a chance for him to change tyres with a re­peat of the morn­ing stages loom­ing.

The first test af­ter ser­vice and Breen took 1.8s out of Ka­je­tanow­icz. Were things back on track for Breen?

Not quite. In SS12 he hit a rock dragged out by a pre­ced­ing car, and he had a punc­ture. Not only was it a loss of 7s to Ka­je­tanow­icz on the stage, he only had one spare and had to last for the fi­nal two tests with a lead of just 5.2s. It was ex­actly the ex­cit­ing fin­ish the event de­served.

Chan­nelling the thoughts of his pres­ti­gious coun­try­men and he­roes who have won the event be­fore, he dug deep. The re­sult? He was 6.1s faster on the penul­ti­mate test. Over the last stage he dropped 0.7s to Ka­je­tanow­icz but the re­sult was fore­gone. His hel­met ripped off, no driver has ever as­cended to the roof of a car quicker, as a rally that al­most slipped away from the Ir­ish­man for a sec­ond year in a row was van­quished. He doesn’t do any­thing the easy way, but it’s hard not to ap­pre­ci­ate the work and com­mit­ment from a driver who’s suf­fered from so much bad luck. Not un­like his PH Sport team-mate Kris Meeke, who also hit a rock in a DS 3 re­cently in Monte Carlo. But this time the driver won, not the rock.

Ka­je­tanow­icz was out­stand­ing all week­end on only his sec­ond trip to the tight lanes and sealed the run­nerup spot. It was no sur­prise he was jumped on at the fin­ish by al­most as many fans as Breen and it’s clear the home­town fans have ac­cepted him as their own.

Be­hind the dic­ing duo it was a good week­end for Alas­tair Fisher. The nephew of Ber­tie Fisher re­turns the fam­ily name to a podium graced seven times by his great un­cle. Even a punc­ture in the most in­hos­pitable stage in the event, The Glens, couldn’t end his charge and a sen­si­ble and well-judged rally re­ally earned the in­tended re­sult. It was no sur­prise that such a well-paced rally was over­seen by co-driver Gor­don No­ble. Fisher also made up for an off in West Cork in the Ir­ish Tar­mac Cham­pi­onship last time

11 Wo­j­ciech Chuchla/ Daniel Dy­murski (Subaru Im­preza STI); 12 David Botka/ Peter Sze­les (Citroen DS 3 R5); 13 An­tonin Tlus­tak/ Ladislav Kucera (Skoda Fabia R5); 14 Jamie An­der­son/ Ross Whit­tock (Ford Fi­esta R5); 15 Rhys Yates/tom Wood­burn (Ford Fi­esta R5); 16 To­mas Davies/ Eurig Davies (Ford Fi­esta R5); 17 Lukasz Pieni­azek/ Prze­mys­law Mazur (Opel Adam R2); 18 Chris In­gram/ Ka­trin Becker (Opel Adam R2); 19 Mar­i­jan Griebel/ Pirmin Win­kl­hofer (Opel Adam R2); 20 Niko­lay Gryazin/yaroslav Fe­dorov (Peu­geot 208 R2).

out, while the win­ner of that event, Keith Cronin, took his turn to have an ac­ci­dent. An off on the first sec­tion of the first stage ruled out one of the pre-event favourites, who had scored max­i­mum points ahead of Fisher in the first round, and also took full points in West Cork. It was a dou­ble blow for the Citroen man with the event count­ing for the Ir­ish Tar­mac and British cham­pi­onship. Af­ter a poor Mid-wales, he has no scores from the open­ing two BRC rounds.

Per­haps one of the hap­pi­est driv­ers in the field was Josh Mof­fett. The Ir­ish­man stole the lead of the Ir­ish Tar­mac Cham­pi­onship points af­ter fin­ish­ing all three rounds, while also ar­riv­ing back to Belfast as the first British Rally Cham­pi­onship run­ner, his first BRC win. Per­haps the only real trou­ble for the Mon­aghan lad was an ad­mis­sion to stage end reporter and WRC co-driver Seb Marshall that he’d “gone through a junc­tion back­wards”.

The week­end was a poor one for many BRC 1 run­ners with so many re­tir­ing. Erst­while leader and like­able North­ern Ir­ish­man Marty Mccor­mack was lead­ing the BRC be­fore a fuel pump is­sue ruled him out of an in­cred­i­ble win. Mccor­mack pi­lots an S2000 Skoda Fabia that is un­der­pow­ered com­pared to other R5 cars, but a hard push in mixed con­di­tions had given him an ad­van­tage.

Also miss­ing from the fi­nal re­sults; Fredrik Ah­lin. The rapid Swede was adamant be­fore the event that he would take a while to get up to speed on asphalt af­ter four years of gravel and snow events. But team boss Martin Wilkinson showed no sur­prise that the 24-year-old was im­me­di­ately on the pace. Sec­ond fastest on stage five and fourth over­all, he was on course to put a dent in El­fyn Evans’ joker-boosted cham­pi­onship lead. But he was one of the driv­ers caught out on the New­tow­nards TT stage and only his ex­cel­lent me­chan­i­cal nous got the car back in a work­able state with only a 15-minute ser­vice the next morn­ing. But Satur­day proved to be a night­mare. A punc­ture, oil leak and fi­nally a lengthy slide into a bank put the nail in the cof­fin. Some valu­able points had gone beg­ging.

Two Euro­pean driv­ers were also lost. Robert Con­sani went off on the shake­down stage and, af­ter his crew worked hard to re­build his Citreon DS 3 R5, it was down to two-wheel drive on SS1.

Per­haps just as painfully, Jaromir Tarabus drove a con­ser­va­tive but im­pres­sive rally to sit fifth, but slid off into a hedge on the fi­nal stage of the rally.

In­stead, fifth over­all went to Breen and Cronin’s team-mate Jonny Greer. Reigned were rapid man­aged British

Di­rectly British was another shake­down dra­mas, back­wards. to pre­pare score on visit could

Tom set-up on Satur­day meant did well im­pres­sive S2000 Skoda con­tender Ford Fi­esta

Mc­go­nigle

Fastest El­fyn Evans/craig Parry (Ford Fi­esta R5) 2m28.9s

Fisher headed Ir­ish Tar­mac run­ners

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