Having punched in the third fastest time on yesterday’s opening stage of the Tour de Corse, round four of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, Craig Breen suffered disappointment when his Sainteloc-run Peugeot 207 S2000 broke a driveshaft on the second stage as he lost touch with the leaders.
The Waterford ace also had to traverse the final stage of the leg in two-wheel drive mode and ended the day down in 24th place — more than three minutes behind rally leader Andreas Mikkelsen (Skoda Fabia S2000). Derry’s Marty McCormack and his Mallow co-driver David Moynihan, in the PSEngineering-run Ford Fiesta S2000, are 13th overall.
On the 26km opening stage, Giandomenico Basso (Fiesta S2000) was quickest, with Dani Sordo (Mini WRC) 3.4 seconds behind and a charging Breen (Peugeot 207) just two-tenths of a second further back. He said: “I have an incredibly good feeling with the car. The set-up is amazing.”
Series leader Mikkelsen was another two-tenths of a second behind Breen. McCormack, who had only the shakedown to familiarise himself with the car, was 15th. Overnight, Mikkelsen led Basso by 1.8 seconds with Sordo one second adrift in third. The rally continues today with five stages.
Meanwhile, the Dunlop National Rally Championship reaches the halfway mark on Sunday with the Tullow-based Mount Wolseley Hotel Carlow Rally.
In what is already one of the closest contests in recent years, Kerry driver Thomas Fitzmaurice has the edge courtesy of his pair of victories in Abbeyleix and in the Circuit of Kerry.
The Abbeydorney driver also has that other ingredient needed in any championship – luck.
In Claremorris, he spun his Subaru on the opening stage and dropped to 85th in classification. After changing his mind on withdrawing from the event, he went on to finish — and with one of the top four not registered for points, Fitzmaurice took 14 Dunlop points.
One of his rivals, Brian O’Mahony (Subaru WRC), retired when his car caught fire.
The Claremorris event was won by Niall Maguire, who is two points behind in the championship chase. Maguire has lost time in the closing stages of two of the three events to date, with O’Mahony losing out on the Circuit of Kerry on a tie-break.
It is those little nuances that has tipped the balance of power in Fitzmaurice’s favour, even though the Kerry ace has adapted superbly in the move to the Subaru WRC.
Maguire, O’Mahony and Maynooth’s Kevin Barrett, the final player of the Dunlop title-chasing quartet, needs to repel the challenge of table topper Fitzmaurice, especially as this year’s campaign is based on the best six from eight events.
Another win for Fitzmaurice would make it extremely tough for his rivals to mount an attack in the second half of the season.
With the quartet all driving S11 Subaru WRCs, Fitzmaurice’s ex-Patrick Elliott/Valentino Rossi model seems the sharpest.
Of the quartet, Barrett is in most need of maximum points as hecurrently lies 24 points adrift. O’Mahony, also with one non-finish to his credit, is 18 points off the lead.
Colm Murphy (Subaru) the top-seeded Group N driver, should have too much in reserve for the likes of Shane Maguire (Subaru) and Josh Moffett (Mitsubishi Evo IX) and will probably be looking to break the dominance of the Subaru quartet.
The top 10 also features Roy White (MG S2000), Tom Cave (Citroen DS3 R3) and Daniel McKenna (Ford Escort).
McKenna heads an incredible array of opposition in the Modified category where the focus is on points for the inaugural Dunlop National Mark 2 Escort Champions Trophy and the rally.ie category. McKenna, winner of his home rally in Monaghan a few weeks ago, is capable of punching in pacesetting times.
The Carlow entry of Mk. 2s is enthralling — Gary McPhillips, Frank Kelly, Declan Boyle, Camillus Bradley, Pat Donegan, Jonathan Pringle, Sam Smyth and Michael Curran are some of the principals. The opening stage at Rathvilly begins at 9.41am.
Cork racing driver Matt Griffin and his co-drivers Marco Cioci and Piergiuseppe Perazzini, driving for the AF Corse team, finished third in the GTE AM class in the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship Spa Francorchamps last weekend.
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