Flying Finn Esapekka Lappi set a blistering pace on the first six special stages of the International section of the Circuit of Ireland Rally a counter in the FIA European Rally Championship on Friday.
The young Skoda ace won all six stages as on stage six his German teammate Sepp Wiegand dropped down the leaderboard from fourth to sixth as the result of an overshoot at a junction.
Meanwhile the two Peugeot 208 T16s in the hands of Ireland’s Craig Breen and Dutch driver Kevin Abbring were trading places, stage six and Abbring missed a junction allowing Breen to capture second.
The Irishman was not without dramas he ripped a bumper off his Peugeot and as a result Petter Kristiansen ran over the bumper in his Skoda, the result a puncture and loss of brakes.
Meanwhile in the race for Irish Tarmac Championships points in the National section of the rally, Fermanagh’s Garry Jennings was the pacesetter at the wheel of his Subaru WRC chasing his first win on the Easter event.
Jennings had been pipped by the Fiesta of Donagh Kelly on the opening stage, but on stage two the Fermanagh ace was at the head of the field, he steadily widened the gap over Kelly, Declan Boyle (Subaru) and Derek McGarrity at the wheel of a Mini WRC chasing win number six on the event was up to fourth.
Next up was the Mini WRC of former champions Eugene Donnelly with Kenny McKinstry (Subaru) rounding off the top six in a Subaru.
Stage seven Hamilton’s Folly and the battle raged between Lappi and Breen, yet again Lappi came out best with Robert Barrable in his Ford Fiesta moving up the leaderboard to slot into third place overall with Abbring back down to seventh, he reported smoke coming from under the bonnet of his Peugeot.
Jennnings continued to lead the National from Kelly with Eugene Donnelly powering his Mini WRC ahead of McGarrity.
Stage eight and Breen edged out Lappi by a mere 0.1 second with the ever improving Barrable third.
Breen had found the winning stage rythm and on the penultimate test of the opening day near Ballygown he topped the time sheets once again with a four second advantage over Lappi, narrowing the Finn’s lead to 14.4 seconds.
Wiegand set the third fastest time ahead of Barrable, the young Dubliner maintaining third place overall.
The final challenge of the day, a 2.3 kilometre sprint using a part of the old TT circuit in Newtownards, these urban stages now much a feature of the European Rally Championship designed mainly for television.
Once again Breen came out on top to narrow the gap even more to rally leader Lappi, 12.6 seconds.
“It was very very good day, I am so happy. I think it is the first time in the proper tarmac and I am really enjoying now.
“We will see tomorrow, for sure it will be big fight, but I will do my best,” added Lappi at the conclusion of day one.
Meanwhile Breen, “It has been not such a bad day, a bit difficult, the rally definitely is not over yet, we can do it.”
In the battle for National honours Jennings will start today with a healthy 23.8 second advantage.