Flying Finn Esapekka Lappi moved into the lead of the FIA European Rally Championship by taking a dominant win on the Circuit of Ireland Rally.
Lappi – at the wheel of a works Skoda – surged to victory over the weekend.
Fermanagh’s Garry Jennings crashed out in the National, a counter in the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship handing victory to Declan Boyle.
Lappi’s win was his second out of three starts in the European series and he became the third Finnish driver to win on the Circuit.
Now leading the European Rally Championship he commented at the Belfast finish: “It was absolutely a perfect rally. I kept my performance from day one and that I am really proud of.”
German Sepp Wiegand in the second works Skoda beat Ireland’s Robert Barrable to take the runner up position.
On the final day Wiegand edged ever closer to Barrable and on special stage 17 an overshoot followed by a brief trip into a field by the Irish driver and the German driver found himself with a five second advantage as the action moved to the final special stage.
Lappi had faced a formidable challenge from Irish driver Craig Breen on the opening day the works Peugeot driver had won the final three special stages and started day two just 14 seconds adrift of the leader but on special stage 11 the 208 T16 ground to a halt, the Breen challenge as over. The problem a sensor had failed.
This was the one rally he wanted to win more than any other and he came to his home event full of confidence after winning the previous round in Greece and with it the championship lead.
“The car just lost all power,” Breen said afterwards.
“I tried a restart but unfortunately the Peugeot did not agree with that, I am so disappointed.”
Breen’s retirement really took the pressure of Lappi as the focus was then clearly on the battle for runner up position between Barrable and Weigand.
A steady performance by French driver Robert Consani saw him bring his Peugeot 207 S2000 into fourth place ahead of England’s Neil Simpson in a Skoda Fabia and Irish driver Daniel McKenna completed the top six and as a bonus won the ERC Production Cup at the wheel of his Citroen DS3, a great result.
Jennings’ accident occurred on the final stage, his Subaru WRC of at a fast right hand corner and with it his hopes of scoring his first win on the Easter classic.
Declan Boyle, at the wheel of a Subaru WRC, now extends his lead in the Tarmac series as the next round will be staged in Killarney.
Donagh Kelly finished runner up with his Ford Focus WRC and a former five times winner of the Circuit of Ireland Rally Derek McGarrity brought his Mini WRC into third place.
The rally attracted large crowds of spectators and very positive feedback from the visiting drivers must surely mean that the European Rally Championship will make a return visit.