After the first two rallies of the 2015 European Rally Championship tested the drivers’ abilities to compete on snowy stages, the action moved to the asphalt roads of one of the classics, the Circuit of Ireland. Based this year in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the cars tackled 18 special stages on the hilly lanes and in a really close result it was Craig Breen who added his name to the list of Irishmen who had won this iconic rally, beating Katejan Katejanowicz by just 6.5 seconds and with it, the ERC drivers’ championship lead.

The first day of competitive action saw eight stages, but none was longer than 17km. Quickest out of the blocks was Robert Barrable, who won the qualifying stage and elected to run as first car on the road. He won the opening stage and then survived a scare on SS2 when his side window blew out. Nonetheless he finished the day just one second off the pace in second overall. Taking advantage of Barrable’s problems was Breen, who led for most of the day despite a small issue with his throttle. Championship leader coming into this event was Katejanowicz but he nearly went off just two corners into the first stage of the rally. However he kept it on the road and admitted he was really enjoying the stages on the way to a solid third place at the close of the day. Further back there was a huge battle between Irish brothers Josh and Sam Moffett over fourth place. There were a couple of high-profile retirements though; Alistair Fisher crashed his Ford Fiesta R5 on SS3 whilst the Citroen DS3 of Robert Consani suffered terminal gearbox problems on the following stage.

The second and final day of action was easily the longest, covering 128km across 10 special stages. Barrable was once again quickest out of the blocks, swapping the lead with Breen throughout the day. He was only a second in front of Breen going into SS16, where he threw away the chance of victory by going off the road and being forced to retire. That left Breen sitting pretty at the top of the leaderboard but on the penultimate stage suffered a spin and damaged the front end, which allowed Katejanowicz to close right in. Breen though held his nerve through the final stage to achieve a boyhood dream and take the victory on the Circuit of Ireland Rally. With the win he also overhauled Katejanowicz in the ERC drivers’ standings.

The final podium spot went to Josh Moffett in his Ford Fiesta RRC, beating his brother Sam by a little over 40 seconds. Frenchman Charles Martin did a brilliant job in his first ever ERC rally in taking fifth place in another Peugeot 208 T16 whilst Alexey Lukyanuk aimed for experience in his first tarmac rally and improved as every stage passed to take sixth. Emil Bergkvist, who stunned the ERC world by taking sixth in Latvia in an R2 specification car again claimed the ERC 3 category win with another top 10 placing, just fending off team-mate Marijan Griebel in the process. Hungarian driver Krisztian Hideg took the ERC 2 win in his Mitsubishi Lancer, beating Czech Vojtech Stajf by 24 seconds. Notable retirements on the second day included Jonny Greer, who retired from sixth overall after the final stage when his Citroen’s engine caught fire and Euan Thorburn, who suffered terminal power steering problems after SS15.

With this victory, the ERC standings look rosy for Craig Breen as he overtakes Katejanowicz by 3 points; however they have a huge 32 point cushion over Lukyanuk, who moves up to third courtesy of Consani’s day one retirement. The top three drivers in ERC 2 were on the podium here in Ireland but it is Stajf who has a 4 point lead over David Botka, with Hideg 11 points further back. ERC 3 is currently being dominated by Bergkvist and he has more than double the points of his nearest challenger.

The 2015 ERC season next moves onto the gravel roads of the SATA Rallye Acores in Portugal, which takes place from the 4th-6th of June. Changeable weather can make life extremely difficult for the drivers and one stage even runs along the rim of a volcanic crater lake so it is definitely not one to miss!

CircuitofIreland2015Barrable

Robert Barrable was the biggest threat to Breen before crashing out on Stage 16.

circuitofireland2015bergkvist

Emil Bergkvist drove a brilliant rally for his second top-10 result of the year.

circuitofireland2015breenwin

With this victory, Craig Breen has gained a 3 point lead in the ERC standings.

Final Classifications – Circuit of Ireland 2015

Pos. Driver Name Co-Driver Name Car Time/Diff
1 C. Breen S. Martin Peugeot 208 T16 2:04:04.5
2 K. Kajetanowicz J. Baran Ford Fiesta R5 +6.4
3 J. Moffett J. Rowan Ford Fiesta RRC +1:42.3
4 S. Moffett K. Atkinson Ford Fiesta RRC +2:24.1
5 C. Martin T. Salva Peugeot 208 T16 +2:41.2
6 A. Lukyanuk Y. Chervonenko Ford Fiesta R5 +4:36.1
7 T. Doyle E. Hayes Skoda Fabia S2000 +5:23.5
8 J. Tarabus D. Trunkat Skoda Fabia S2000 +8:29.7
9 R. Jeets A. Toom Ford Fiesta R5 +8:35.5
10 E. Bergkvist J. Sjoberg Opel Adam R2 +8:38.3

Final Classifications – ERC 2

Pos. Driver Name Co-Driver Name Car Time/Diff
1 K. Hideg I. Kerek Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX 2:13:11.3
2 V. Stajf F. Rajnoha Subaru Impreza STi +23.9
3 D. Botka P. Mihalik Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX +2:08.7

Final Classifications – ERC 3

Pos. Driver Name Co-Driver Name Car Time/Diff
1 E. Bergkvist J. Sjoberg Opel Adam R2 2:12:42.8
2 M. Griebel S. Clemens Opel Adam R2 +15.2
3 C. Ingram G. Moreau Peugeot 208 VTi R2 +1:12.7
4 D. Gago J. Carvalho Peugeot 208 VTi R2 +3:06.8
5 V. Gryazin D. Lebedik Peugeot 208 VTi R2 +3:37.6
6 R. Sirmacis A. Simins Peugeot 208 VTi R2 +6:42.6
7 R. Turk B. Kacin Peugeot 208 VTi R2 +7:51.1
8 L. Pieniazek J. Gerber Peugeot 208 VTi R2 +8:20.2
9 F. Tincescu S. Itu Peugeot 208 VTi R2 +14:44.9
10 C. Beattie D. Mullen Ford Fiesta R2 +17:28.2
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