A mere second separated the top two drivers at the end of day one of the Circuit of Ireland Rally on Friday.
And what a treat it was for local fans with home favourite Craig Breen leading Robert Barrable – two of Ireland’s most promising young rally aces.
This is the one event more than any other which Breen wants to win – against a star-studded entry list with most of the top names in Europe taking part.
The Circuit of Ireland is the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
The opening special stage saw Barrable carry on from his success the previous earlier when he won the Qualifying stage at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta R5, with Breen and County Tyrone’s Alistair Fisher next up.
Stage Two saw Breen – despite some anxiety regarding the turbo on his Peugeot 208 T16 – topping the time sheets from Poland’s Katejan Katejanowicx who leads the series and who is also anxious to add the Circuit to his tally.
French driver Robert Consani at the wheel of his Citroen pipped Barrable for third, but he was later to suffer a gearbox problem.
His retirement is a major disappointment as he was in third place in the European Rally Championship.
Stage Three fell to Breen from Barrable with Josh Moffitt (Fiesta) third, but Fisher crashed thankfully without injury to himself or his co-driver.
Stage Four and the battle continued to rage with Barrable coming off best from Kajetanowicx and Breen.
This saw Breen’s lead cut to just 1.2 seconds.
However, on the next stage he was back on top with the Polish driver again second and Barrable third and his lead increased to 10.4 seconds.
Stage Six saw Kajetanowicx score his first of the day with Breen and Barrable next up and a further 0.5 seconds extension to Breen’s lead.
Away from the rural stages of County Down, which had proved to be damp and slippery early in the day, the focus turned to the short TT Spectator Stage in Newtownards.
A rally can be lost or won in these types of stages and the first run through saw another win to the series leader, with Barrable next up and Breen back in fifth;
Breen’s lead was down to 7.1 seconds.
The final run through the TT stage saw a new name at the top of the time sheets, Russian Alexey Lukanyuk with his Fiesta R5.
Breen had fallen to ninth and this opened the door for a very impressive Barrable.
The Circuit also features a National section with the battle for points in the Clonakilty Black Pudding Tarmac Championship and despite a few of the top contenders deciding to miss this round reigning champion Declan Boyle, Derek McGarrity and Kenny McKinstry and several others provided a huge slice of the high speed entertainment over the stages.
Once again Boyle was very much on the pace and at the end of Stage Six Lough Henney 2 he had a lead of one minute and twenty six seconds over McGarrity with McKinstry third, all three driving Subaru World Rally Cars.
Today’s route features eight stages, covering a distance of 128.18 kilometres.
The finish podium celebrations take place at Titanic Quarter in Belfast at 6.35pm.