Craig Breen at the wheel of a Peugeot 208 T16 kept the opposition at bay to win the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally and in doing so has taken the lead of the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship.
The 25-year old Irish driver drove brilliantly to keep himself in contention, as his Peugeot suffered a mysterious and intermittent turbo problem.
Fearing the car would lose power, Breen had to drive flat-out when things were going well, to compensate the time he lost when the boost was lost.
However he swapped the lead with fellow Irish driver Robert Barrable but the Ford Fiesta R5 driver crashed out of the lead three stages from the end. A bitter end to a great drive.
“Winning the Circuit of Ireland Rally means more than anything else in the world to me, to have my name on the same trophy as my hero Frank Meagher is something really special,” commented Breen at he finish in Belfast.
Frank Meagher was Breen’s hero even from a small boy, Meagher won the Circuit in 1992, but ten years later lost his life in a testing exercise.
Breen’s win was not without drama, he had an overshoot and stalled twice on the last stage, but his co-driver kept his head together.
Barrable who has not rallied for some months set the fastest time on the Qualifying Stage and took that form into the rally itself.
The lead swapped four times in five stages, as little as 0.5s separated Barrable and Breen at one stage. Barrable led by 1.1s going into stage sixteen, but skidded over a bank on a slippery left hand corner and out of the event.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz came to Northern Ireland leading the European Rally Championship and impressed on his first visit.
Describing the tarmac stages as some of the best he had ever driven on and he too had a number of close moments as he pushed his Ford Fiesta R5 to the limit.
He chased Breen hard for victory, finishing just 6.4s behind in second place.
The Moffett brothers, Josh and Sam, enjoyed a close battle throughout in their identical Ford Fiestas with just 41.8s separated them at the finish, with Josh claiming the final podium position.
Charles Martin came to Northern Ireland to gain experience, and on his first ERC outing in his Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 and the French driver achieved everything and more by finishing fifth.
Russian Alexey Lukyanuk did not expect to finish in the points after his Fiesta R5 broke a driveshaft under braking on stage two.
But after an excellent run on his first tarmac rally, which saw his pace increase to less than one second per kilometre slower than the pacesetters, he moves up to third in the ERC drivers’ standings after finishing sixth.
The European Rally Championship now moves on to the Azores and no doubt Breen will be aiming to keep his name at the top of the series leaderboard.
The National Rally which attracted a very large entry went the way of Derek McGarrity who had a comfy winning margin over Kenny McKinstry.
There had been a trio of Subaru World Rally Cars fighting for the number one sport but Declan Boyle retired and Wesley Patterson produced yet another giant killing act to bring his Ford Escort Mk11 into third place.
RESULTS: 1st - Craig Breen / Scott Martin - Peugeot 208 T16 2:04:04.5; 2nd - Kajetan Kajetanowicz / Jaroslaw Baran - Ford Fiesta 2:04:10.9 (+0:06.4): 3rd - Josh Moffett / John Rowan - Ford Fiesta 2:05:46.8 (+1:42.3); 4th - Sam Moffett / Karl Atkinson - Ford Fiesta 2:06:28.6 (+2:24.1); 5th Charles Martin / Thierry Salva - Peugeot 208 T16 2:06:45.7 (+2:41.2); 6th Alexey Lukanyuk / Yevhen Chervonenko - Ford Fiesta 2:08:40.6 (+4:36.1); 7th Tommy Doyle / Eamon Hayes - Škoda Fabia 2:09:28.0 (+5:23.5)l; 8th Jaromír Tarabus / Daniel Trunkát - Škoda Fabia 2:12:34.2 [1:00.0] (+8:29.7); 9th Raul Jeets / Andrus Toom - Ford Fiesta 2:12:40.0 (+8:35.5); 10th Emil Bergkvist / Joakim Sjöberg - Opel Adam 2:12:42.8 (+8:38.3).