Neil Simpson returns to Circuit of Ireland driving Skoda Fabia 5

Tourism Manager John Douglas with Neil Simpson and Claire Mole
Tourism Manager John Douglas with Neil Simpson and Claire Mole

Despite a long international rally career, during which time Neil Simpson became a works Volkswagen Motorsport driver, the 44-year old from Clitheroe in Lancashire has only contested the Circuit of Ireland Rally once before and that was in 2014, after he had returned to the sport from a 12 year sabbatical.

Simpson finished an impressive fifth on his debut on the 2014 Circuit, driving an ex-Skoda Motorsport Fabia S2000.

This time he will start the 2016 event in a new Skoda Fabia R5, and he will be hoping to restart his 2016 MSA British Rally Championship campaign, after suffering an early retirement on the opening Mid Wales Stages.

The start of his first BRC programme for 16 years ended when the pop-off valve of his Skoda exploded as he left the start line of the opening stage.

With six scores from seven rallies to count, his 2016 BRC season begins with a clean slate on the Circuit of Ireland and with co-driver Elliott Edmondson he has been testing the Fabia R5 on a tarmac road in Wales.

“The Circuit of Ireland is one of the standout events in this year’s MSA British Rally Championship, and I am really looking forward to returning to the challenging tarmac roads of Northern Ireland,” said Simpson. “I have only done the event once before, however, over my career I have done the Ulster Rally and many of the stages, or at least part of them, several times, so I have a good feel for the terrain and know what to expect.

“The weather can often have a dramatic effect on the outcome of the event, and making the correct tyre choice will be vital.

“It will be a tough event, the competition is very strong indeed, and I would be delighted if we could come home with a top ten result.”