A second Circuit of Ireland Rally victory for Craig Breen and co-driver Scott Martin (Citroen DS3 R5) was secured by desire and determination after the pair saw their relatively safe lead whittled away to just 5.2 seconds prior to the final two stages.
A puncture threatened to deny them the spoils on this second round of the European Rally Championship, however, they remained composed and competitive to finish 10.6 seconds in front of the Fiesta R5 of Polish duo Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Jaroslaw Baran. Northern Ireland’s Alastair Fisher/Gordon Noble (Fiesta R5) were 45.8 seconds further behind in third. Meanwhile, fourth-placed Monaghan crew Josh Moffett/John Rowan (Ford Fiesta R5) are the new leaders of the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
Breen began Saturday morning’s three stages near Ballynahinch with a 25.1 second advantage. Tyre choice was crucial but the strategy of opting for a softer compound proved detrimental. His respective losses to Kajetanowicz were 7.2, 6.4, and 3.1 seconds. He stopped the decline on the stage at Banbridge (SS10) where he was two seconds up on his rival.
At the King’s Hall service park Breen, leading by 10.4 seconds, showed little signs of anxiety — aware that the situation was nothing to do with his ability.
Meanwhile, Fisher was 12.2 seconds behind Kajetanowicz as he acknowledged the importance of his Irish Tarmac Championship bid.
Derry’s Marty McCormack (Skoda Fabia S2000) and his Cork co-driver David Moynihan bowed out of fourth place with fuel pump problems on SS9.
The new incumbent of the position was Josh Moffett (Fiesta R5), who had a slight excursion on the SS 10. On the previous stage his brother Sam (Fiesta R5) slid off and hit a bank, although he managed to replace a steering arm, the time lost proved insurmountable and he withdrew. Jaromir Tarabus (Skoda Fabia R5) and the Citroen DS 3 R5 of Jonny Greer filled the top six.
On the first stage out of service Breen gained a psychological and timely advantage as he stretched his lead to 12.3 seconds.
The tendency of the top crews to cut corners proved costly on the repeat of Hamilton’s Folly (SS12) — a rock lying on the edge of the road pierced the left tyre of Breen’s Citroen and his lead was reduced to a mere 5.2 seconds.
At the stage finish, he changed the wheel and set out for the penultimate stage near Dromore.
Significantly, he posted the best time and duly calmed the situation with a lead of 11.3 seconds. Although Kajetanowicz was fastest through the final stage, Breen paced himself to perfection — only a fraction of a second off his rival’s stage time — to win by 10.6 seconds.
For the second year in a row, the top two places were identical.
Fisher backed off to ensure third and maximum points in the Irish Tarmac series with Josh Moffett fourth. Jonny Greer (Citroen) was promoted to fifth after the final stage demise of Jaromir Tarabus, who crashed his Skoda, David Bogie (Skoda R5) was sixth.
Arriving at the Queen’s University finish podium Breen said. “We are thrilled, it’s what we came here to do. It’s been one of the most enjoyable weekend’s rallying that I have ever done. Some fantastic stages, fantastic battle with Kato (Kajetanowicz) and many others. It’s a privilege to put my name on the board again for a second time joining a couple of more of these famous guys.
“I knew we had the speed in hand. Unfortunately, someone pulled a rock out in front of us on Hamilton’s Folly and we got a puncture and dropped a couple of seconds.
“We got it back on the next one and we were fairly comfortable from there. It’s great to come back here and win this event.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved