With the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship well underway competitors are heading to Northern Ireland for round three of the series, the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally. Crews are preparing themselves for the tight and twisty tarmac lanes of the Emerald Isle which posses some of the most demanding and spectacular tarmac stages on the calender.
53 entries and 85% of the registered championship competitors will cross the start line in Belfast for what is shaping up to be an action packed event. With over 200 kilometres of competitive stage miles crews are going to be tested to their limits over a variety of stages including the popular Hamilton’s Folly stage and the Newtownards TT street stage.
Irishman Craig Breen has been seeded at number one in the Peugeot Academy 208 T16 R5 and will be considered by many to be the pre-event favourite as he bids to put the disappointment of last year behind him. Breen was running a strong second here in 2014 and was the only driver offering any threat to eventual winner Esapekka Lappi but was forced to retire with mechanical issues.
Current series leader Kajetan Kajetanowicz is making his Circuit debut in his LOTOS Rally Team Fiesta R5 and will be hoping to adjust to the conditions quickly. An off on the last round in Latvia blemished his impressive start to the season but the Pole is still leading the series by five points. Frenchman Robert Consani is tackling the Circuit for the third time but in a new car this weekend. Consani is switching from Peugeot to Citroen and it will be interesting to see if the Frenchman can get to grips with the DS3 R5 quickly.
Czech drivers Jaromír Tarabus and Antonín Tlusťák will be looking to put their tarmac rallying experience to good use in Northern Ireland as both competitors are set to compete on the event for the first time, both of them are in a Skoda Fabia S2000s.
Alexey Lukyanuk will be looking to put the disappointment of crashing out of Rally Liepaja behind him. The Russian driver has limited experience on tarmac and will be aiming to collect points for his championship bid in his Ford Fiesta R5.
Scottish Rally Champion Euan Thorburn will commence his ERC program on the Circuit of Ireland in a Ford Fiesta R5. The Scot was competing on the Midland Moto Stages Rally, a round of Ireland’s national rally championship, last weekend as part of his preparations.
In terms of the local competition Combilift Rallying has entered a two car team with brothers Sam and Josh Moffett taking the wheel of two Ford Fiesta RRCs. Josh took the production cup win here in 2014 while Sam was right on the pace of the ERC regulars before he retired.
Dublin driver Robert Barrable is back behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta RRC. 2014 Junior World Rally Championship competitor Alastair Fisher is also out in a similar machine and will be one to watch. Marty McCormack, Jonny Greer and Stephen Wright are two drivers who have plenty of experience on this event also.
In ERC2 all competitors are new to the Circuit of Ireland. David Botka will be looking to extend his two point gap to Voijech Stajf with Krisztian Hideg looking to capitalise on any mistake his series rivals may make.
19 crews have entered the second round of the FIA European Junior Championship and it looks set to be a fantastic battle. The ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team will be looking carry the momentum from Latvia into the second round of the series and the team were also competing on the Midland Moto Stages Rally as part of their preparations for the Circuit.
Series leader Emil Bergkvist took his Opel Adam R2 to 20th overall on the event beating some more powerful machinery in the process and sending out a warning to his rivals that he is here to win again. The Swede competed in the German championship in 2014 and has a growing experience on tarmac. His team-mate Marijan Griebel has also undergone a lot of preparation for the event and will be looking to challenge for the win.
Julius Tannert starts in Northern Ireland on the back of winning the ADAC Saarland-Pfalz Rallye in his native Germany, while Gino Bux has also tasted victory in recent weeks and both will be drivers to watch. Jon Armstrong will be competing on his home event and the Northern Irishman will be hoping that local knowledge plays to his advantage.
Chris Ingram comes to Northern Ireland looking to make up for the disappointment of crashing out of the event last year. The Briton had impressed with his pace in 2014, winning the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy and knows he’s is capable of a strong result.
Ralfs Sirmacis is third in ERC Junior standings and a two-day Tarmac test in the Czech Republic has prepared him well. He will be joined by his Sport Racing Technologies team-mate Vasily Gryazin, both drivers will compete in 208s.
The action kicks off with a 3.22-kilometre Qualifying Stage on Thursday 2 April, which will help to determine the running order for leg one with the ceremonial start will then take place that evening outside Belfast City Friday’s action contains eight stages totalling 87.04 kilometres and includes two visits to the famous Hamilton’s Folly test. The day finishes with two runs over the Newtownards TT street stage when more than 25,000 fans are expected to watch the action.
Ten stages, covering a distance of 128.18 kilometres, are scheduled for Saturday with crews twice tackling the rally’s longest test – the 26.02 kilometres of McGaffins Corner in addition to two passes through Lisburn’s town centre stage ahead of the evening finish in Belfast.
The Checkered Flag will be reporting live from the event throughout the weekend.