Breen believes tide has turned in his favour

Even though Finland’s Esapekka Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm (Skoda Fabia S2000) dominated most of the 10 stages in yesterday’s opening leg of the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally, the event remains delicately poised and set for a frenetic finish through today’s eight stages.

Breen believes tide has turned in his favour

That’s because their main rivals, Waterford’s Craig Breen and his British co-driver Scott Martin on board their Peugeot 208 T16, are only 12.6 seconds behind after a day-long battle in splendid sunshine on the roads of counties Antrim and Down.

Dubliner Robert Barrable and co-driver Stuart Loudon, in their Tunnock’s Cakes-liveried Ford Fiesta R5, are third overall and on course for a podium spot in this fourth round of the European Rally Championship.

On the opening stage near Newtownards, Lappi was somewhat surprised to have topped the timesheets as he claimed he wasn’t pushing and was braking too early at the junctions. Kevin Abbring was second best, 2.2 seconds behind, with Breen nine-10ths of a second further behind. It was the same through the second and third stages as Lappi began to take control.

At the refuelling halt in Ballynahinch, the Finnish ace led Abbring by 5.4 seconds with Breen 2.6 further behind. On the third stage, Hamilton’s Folly, the rear screen of Breen’s car smashed after a heavy landing. All the drivers commented on the massive jumps on the Hamilton’s Folly stage with Lappi, whose stage time was just two-10ths of a second faster than Abbring, remarking, “It was quite crazy, with the jumps. We made a huge jump. I brake much more for the crest before, and then the next one we were flying. It is like in Finland, only on tarmac and more narrow.”

Sam Moffett (Ford Fiesta RRC) was fourth with Sepp Wiegand (Skoda Fabia S2000) and Barrable (Ford Fiesta R5) completing the top six.

Elsewhere, Daniel McKenna led the ERC two-wheel drive championship category in ninth — 11.1secs up on Finn Jukka Korhonen in a similar Citroen DS3 R3T. Josh Moffett headed the ERC Production Car Cup runners, even though he had brake problems.

On stages four and five near Carryduff, Lappi continued to set the pace even though Breen came within a fraction of a second of the Finnish ace on both stages.

Breen, who remained in third, said his Peugeot T16 was behaving somewhat nervously due to the loss of the rear windscreen. In an effort to make some repairs he cut his hand.

With five straight stage wins Lappi arrived at the Titanic Quarter service park with a lead of 7.7secs over Abbring, with Breen only 1.1secs behind in third.

On the resumption Lappi was again the driver to beat and with a pair of fastest stage times he extended his advantage to 18.5 seconds as Breen moved into second, even though he had a massive moment on the sixth stage where he lost the rear bumper.

His team mate Abbring was in trouble, he missed a junction on the sixth stage and although he finished the next test, his Peugeot was forced out with a water leak. Meanwhile, Barrable (Ford Fiesta R5) slotted into third.

It wasn’t until SS8 that Lappi’s succession of fastest stage times was broken, with Breen topping the timesheets by a 10th of a second. He was also quickest on the day’s penultimate stage to trim Lappi’s advantage to 14.4secs. Last evening’s final stage, the Newtownards TT stage, also went to Breen, who ended the day was 12.6secs behind, declaring: “This rally isn’t over yet, I think we can definitely do it.”

A delighted Barrable ended the leg in third place — 1:27.6 behind, with Wiegand just 8.8secs adrift. Elsewhere, Sam Moffett (Ford Fiesta RRC) is fifth and his younger brother Josh leads the Production category.

Meanwhile, in the National event, Garry Jennings (Subaru WRC) is 23.8secs in front of the similar car of Declan Boyle, with Donagh Kelly (Ford Focus WRC) 22.6secs further behind .

Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland (Round 4, European Rally Championship) Belfast: 1. E Lappi/J Ferm (Skoda Fabia S2000) 59m. 11.2s; 2. C Breen/S Martin (Peugeot 208 T16) 59m. 23.8s; 3. R Barrable/S Loudon (Ford Fiesta R5) 1h. 00m. 51.4s; 4. S Wiegand/F Christian (Skoda Fabia S2000) 1h. 01m. 00.2s; 5. S Moffett/J O’Reilly (Ford Fiesta S2000) 1h. 01m. 16.7s; 6. R Consani/V Landais (Peugeot 207 S2000) 1h. 02m. 16.6s; 7. N Simpson/C Mole (Skoda Fabia S2000) 1h. 03m. 04.4s; 8. D McKenna/A. Kierans (Citroen DS3 R3T) 1h. 04m. 56.7s; 9. J Moffett/J Rowan (Mitsubishi Evo IX) 1h. 05m. 11.4s; 10. C Ingram/G Moreau (Renault Twingo R2) 1h. 06m. 01.7s.

National Rally: 1. G Jennings/R Kennedy (Subaru WRC) 1h. 00m. 12.1s; 2. D Boyle/B Boyle (Subaru WRC) 1h. 00m. 35.9s; 3. D Kelly/K Flanagan (Ford Focus WRC) 1h. 00m. 58.5s; 4. E Donnelly/P Kiely (Mini WRC) 1h. 01m. 10.9s; 5. D McGarrity/J McKee (Mini WRC) 1h. 01m. 21.5s; 6. K McKinstry/N Orr (Subaru WRC) 1h. 02m. 26.5s.

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