The pair’s dismissal from the French team has dominated the WRC scene since the last round, in Portugal, where they crashed heavily. This weekend, Craig Breen/Scott Martin and Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen will, according to team principal, Pierre Budar, “keep moving forward and get among the frontrunners.”
It’s debatable if Breen is now under more pressure, since Meeke’s departure, but the Waterford man says the event is a huge challenge. “This is one of the WRC rallies where I have the least experience, but, fortunately, it hasn’t changed much since last year and so I have most of the pace notes. It’s not necessarily my favourite event.”
A positive for Breen is his road position — he runs eighth — and the earlier cars will sweep the loose gravel from the stages.
Rally Portugal winner, Thierry Neville (Hyundai), leads M-Sport driver, Sebastien Ogier (Ford Fiesta), by 19 points.
Meanwhile, tomorrow’s third round of the McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Rally Championship, the Modern Tyres Mourne Rally, will feature eight challenging stages in Slieve Gullion and Camlough.
Series leader and seven-time champion, Derek McGarrity, is set to drive his S14 Subaru WRC, but could appear in a different car. Opposition includes James Laverty (Subaru) and the Escorts of David Armstrong, Norman Armstrong — both former winners — Camillus Bradley, James Kennedy, and Damian Toner. First stage is at 9.15am.
On Sunday, Kilkenny’s Enda O’Brien (Ford Escort) headlines the Portlaoise-based Acesigns Laois Heartlands Rally. Another former winner, Carlow’s David Condell (Ford Escort), along with Kildare’s Jack Newman and Midleton’s Colin Byrne, also in Escorts, complete the top four. The Mitsubishis of Alan Smyth and Brian O’Keeffe break up a Ford top ten that also has places for Dan Gorman, Sam Smyth, Leon Galvin, and Alan Atcheson. Glanmire’s Eamonn O’Connell (Ford Fiesta S2000) and Conor McCrossan (Skoda Fabia S2000) should make inroads to the top ten. Based at O’Loughlin’s Hotel, Portlaoise, the first of the day’s six stages begins at 11.30am.
Tomorrow evening, also at O’Loughlin’s Hotel, the awards for the National Navigation Championship will be presented. The Monaghan/Cork pairing of Derek Mackarel/Muireann Hayes will receive the main award. Cork’s Matt Griffin teams up with fellow professional driver, Italian Marco Cioci, for Sunday’s round three of the International GT Open series at Spa Francorchamps. It’s an extra race for Griffin in a very busy season and follows a request from Ferrari, as American team, Luzich Racing, decided to race a third car.
In the British F4 Championship, the fifth round, at Oulton Park, offers Shanagarry racer, Luca Allen (Fortec Motorsport), a chance to improve on his eighth-place race finish. That is his best result out of the twelve races to date. As usual, the weekend will have three races.
The Munster Autocross Championship continues on Sunday, with the Premier Autoparts Imokilly Autocross (Round 4), at the Scarriff Plant Hire complex in Ballinacurra, outside Midleton.