Ireland’s Craig Breen holds a one second advantage over fellow Irishman Robert Barrable at the halfway point of the Circuit of Ireland Rally, round two of the FIA European Rally Championship. The Peugeot Academy driver won three of the eight stages on the opening leg of the event.
Damp conditions greeted competitors as they left the Titanic Quarter in Belfast City for the opening stages of the event and it was Robert Barrable who set the benchmark on the first test. The Dublin born driver proved his qualifying stage pace was no fluke by going 7.2 seconds quicker than pre-event favourite Breen. Alastair Fisher was just 0.1 of a second further behind in third with Sam Moffett and Robert Consani in 5th. Series leader Kajetan Kajetanowicz held 6th.
Despite suffering a frustrating pop off valve issue with his Peugeot 208 T16 Breen went fastest on the second stage and took the lead by 2.5 seconds from Barrable who finished fourth fastest. Kajetanowicz was back on the pace with second fastest time despite an off on the stage.
After stage three Breen had extended his advantage to 6.1 seconds. Robert Barrable held a strong second after the first loop of stages. “Pretty happy with our pace this morning,” said the Dubliner speaking to The Checkered Flag, ” Our confidence is high after the qualifying stage yesterday so we just need to push on for the rest of the day.” Robert Consani held third with Josh Moffett impressing in fourth. Kajetanowicz had slipped down to sixth.
Consani’s day came to an end on stage four as the Frenchman retired with gearbox issues. Barrable was true to his word and went fastest through stage four to close within 1.2 seconds of the lead. Breen could only manage 5th fastest and he was still having issues with his car.
Over the following two stages Breen managed to extend his advantage over Barrable to head into the Newtownards TT stages 7.1 seconds clear. Kajetanowicz won stage six and was now third 23.6 seconds off the lead.
The Newtownards TT street stages would be the final two tests of the evening and it was Russian driver Alexey Lukyanuk that went fastest on both runs, he ended the day 13th overall. It was a tough run through the final two stages for Breen and he dropped time ending the day leading by just a second over Barrable. “It has been tricky in here,” said the Irishman after stage 8, “What I can say is today has been a good day.” Kajtenaowicz was the biggest gainer in the final two stages of the day and heads into the overnight halt just 16.8 seconds off the lead. The Combilift Rallying team of Josh Moffett and Sam Moffett hold 4th and 5th respectively.
In ERC 2 it is Krisztian Hideg that leads the way. The Hungarian led from the first stage and is 48.1 seconds ahead of Vojtech Stafj with David Botka a further 12 seconds behind in third place.
In the ERC Junior rally it is local man Jon Armstrong who leads the way. The Northern Irishman took the lead on stage two and held onto it. Emil Bergkvist is in second with Marijan Griebel in third. Britain’s Chris Ingram is in fourth place. “It’ll be a fresh start tomorrow”, said the Peugeot UK driver at the end of the day, “I haven’t had the confidence around the corners.”
Ten stages are what await crews for tomorrow’s action including the 26km McGaffins Corner stage, the longest test of the rally.