Irish hopefuls gear up for Rally Finland challenge

Immersed in a test programme with Citroen’s new challenger for the 2017 World Rally Championship, this weekend’s Rally Finland, round eight of the WRC, offers the Irish crew of Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle the opportunity to return to competitive action in the Abu Dhabi Total WRT-run Citroen DS3 WRC to pit their skills against the WRC regulars.

Irish hopefuls gear up for Rally Finland challenge

Winners last time out in Rally Portugal, they will be joined by two other crews from the team, Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Khalid Al Qassimi/Chris Patterson.

Meeke’s best result in Finland was third in 2014. “I’m not competing in every rally this season, but I was determined that Finland should be part of my programme. It’s a rally that often comes down to just a few 10ths of a second and it will provide a good opportunity for me to work on my turn of speed.”

Breen has competed in Finland six times. His season’s outings with the Citroen team have yielded eighth in Sweden and seventh in Poland. “I feel much better prepared for this (Finland) than for my first two rallies with Abu Dhabi Total WRT. I’m familiar with Rally Finland. Two years ago, I was at the wheel of a WRC, but in a totally different context, with my dad working on the car and my mum doing the catering.”

Sebastien Ogier (VW Polo WRC) hasn’t won since the second round and he may feel the need to arrest that statistic, yet he is 51 points clear of second-placed Andreas Mikkelsen, his VW team-mate. Following last evening’s 2.31km special stage, the real business gets under way today with 11 stages.

In Belgium, the Spa Francorchamps circuit hosts the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the biggest GT race of the season. In round four of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup Championship, Cork’s Matt Griffin has regular teammate Duncan Cameron and ELMS driver Aaron Scott on board the AF Corse-entered Ferrari 488 GT3.

Northern Ireland Rally champion Derek McGarrity (Ford Fiesta WRC) heads the entry for tomorrow’s Bradley Motorsport Tyrone Rally, round five of the series.

The Glengormley driver has Tralee’s Diarmuid Falvey on the pacenotes. Opposition includes Kenny McKinstry (Subaru WRC), Martin Cairns (Fiesta WRC), Camillus Bradley (Ford Escort), Emma McKinstry (Subaru S14), and Alistair Cochrane (Ford Escort). The 12-stage event is based in Limavady.

Following on from the announcement by Circuit of Ireland rally event director Bobby Willis, that the 2017 event will not take place (due to funding uncertainty), the Irish Examiner understands that the Ulster Automobile Club has been asked by the TROA (Tarmac Rally Organisers Association) to clarify the situation in relation to running an event, albeit with a different name.

Elsewhere, Waterford’s Brian McCormack (Honda CBR) is expected to defend his title at the Dunderrow Hillclimb on Sunday. He has won the event for the last three years.

Kinsale’s Stephen Tobin (Yamaha R6) and Bishopstown’s Stephen Casey (Yamaha R6) are among the local challengers.

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