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16 Apr 2015

FIA ERC Circuit of Ireland 2015


Text and Photos Reinis Babrovskis

Following an adrenaline and action filled weekend the Peugeot Academy Rally driver Craig Breen secured a maiden victory at the 2015 FIA ERC “Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland” rally adding his name on the list of the prestigious “Circuit” winners. 
The FIA ERC Round 3 - Great Britain returned to Northern Ireland on April 3-4, acting as the opening asphalt rally of the season. The FIA round simultaneously ran alongside the “Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship” and the “Northern Ireland Championship” resulting in an enormous entrance list. The crews tackled 18 stages over 2 days on 215 competitive kilometers on the bumpy and narrow Irish asphalt roads. The Rally HQ and Service Park was hosted at the Titanic Quarters in the capital of Northern Ireland - Belfast.
For many drivers this was their first encounter of the notoriously tricky Irish roads including the current leader of the European Rally Championship (ERC) after 2 rounds Polish driver Kato Kajetanowicz, who despite some pre-rally tests in Poland was not convinced he’d be able to keep up the pace of the locals. In his pre-rally interviews Craig Breen had admitted his desire to finally obtain the victory of the Circuit, but so did many others, meaning the spectators were in for a treat.
Amongst the colossal rally entrance list 2 names stood out more than others; British actor and musician Idris Elba entered the Circuit of Ireland in a Ford Fiesta R1 rally car to film a part for the television series he is currently working on for the Discovery Channel, while the Russian model Inessa Tushkanova entered the rally in a lot more powerful Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. Unlike Idris the Ukrainian born playboy model and entrepreneur is used to driving a rally car; turns out she’s equally good behind the wheel as she is behind the camera spotlights. Inessa has snatched a few trophies in her career, most recently winning the FIA ERC Ladies Trophy in Latvia in 2014.
Furthermore the announcement of the Tuthill 911 R-GT participation in the Circuit of Ireland certainly just added the icing on the cake.
Despite not having been in the driver’s seat of a rally car for quite some time the Irishman Robert Barrable with Damien Connolly in the co-driver’s seat in their hired Ford Fiesta rally car showed they mean the business, setting the fastest time on the short 3.22km qualifying stage on Whinney Hill on Thursday morning. For this own surprise Kajto recorded the second fastest time, followed by Breen in his T16 208 in third.
The miserable weather conditions didn’t put off the die-hards and a large crowd of supporters gathered at the city hall in the afternoon for the start order and ceremonial start ceremonies. The atmosphere was buzzing as the remarkable Belfast City Hall was filled with colourful rally cars, and fans that were trying to get some “selfies” and autographs from their favourite rally drivers.
Loud exhaust noises echoed through the Belfast streets as the crews left the start ramp and continued to the Service Park where the cars were secured overnight.
Good Friday started off with some very Irish-like weather conditions making the roads extremely slippery and dangerous. The first stage was dominated by Barrable taking out 7 seconds of the closest rival Craig Breen followed by Alistair Fisher in third, indicating the local knowledge of the surface was an always going to be an advantage. Bad luck striked the striking livery Citroen DS3 of Robert Consani, after a gearbox failure he was forced to retire fromt he battle.
Sadly the bad luck hit another Irish man – Alistair when he rolled his Fiesta R5 on third stage. Luckily the crew were ok. Brothers Sam and Josh showed an outstanding pace during the day maintaining their names in the top 5.
While Alexey Lukyanuk struggled to get grips with the Irish roads it seemed Kajetan Kajetanowicz got the hand of it and was steadily climbing the leader board. At the end of Leg 1 only 1.5 seconds separated Breen and Barrable.
Leg 2 started with a lovely surprise, the Irish green landscape was now touched by a lovely sunshine and roads were dry and more gripy. Barrable started off on the right foot winning the first stage of the day in contrast to Breen to struggled a bit with his Peugeot T16. In the longest stage of the rally Breen hit back and reduced his time to Barrable to a half a second, meaning the fight was back on.
With only 3 stages to go the Dublin privateer Robert Barrable was leading the rally from works driver Craig Breen. With only a couple of stages left and a minimal 1.1 seconds margin between the two drivers ; however, a disaster struck when Robert got caught out by a loose gravel on a breaking zone before a sharp left hand corner. His tyres locked forcing the crew off the road and getting stuck. His rally was over. Robert later admitted: “Despite the lack of seat time before the event, which I feel contributed to our retirement, we were pleased to be leading the COI. It was great battling with a works driver like Craig for the win.”
The tricky Circuit claimed quite a few victims over two days, including Idris Elba and Inessa Tuskanova who despite not demonstrating the fastest pace was certainly one of the most entertaining drivers to watch keeping her Evo sideways. Tushkanova’s evo clipped the grass under braking causing her to loose control and suffer a nasty roll.
But it wasn’t all fun and games for the crowd’s favourite as Breen had a close call himself nearly rolling his Peugeot 208 T16 on the penultimate stage. Craig revisited the corner once the rally was over and tweeted “The corner that nearly ended it all.” The spin cost the Irishman 14.8 seconds reducing the lead to Kajetanowicz to 5 seconds with 1 stage to go.
There was no drama on SS18 and Craig Breen took the victory of FIA ERC Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland 2015. The speechless and emotional Breen couldn’t hide the joy as his childhood dream to win the COI had finally was fulfilled.The Polish duo of Kajto and Jarek came second on their Irish tarmac debut losing out on the top spot on the podium by 6.4 seconds. Josh Moffett & John Rowan claimed the respectable third.



1. Craig Breen & Scott Martin – Peugeot 208 T16
2. Kato Kajetanowicz & Jaroslaw Baran – Ford Fiesta R5
3. Josh Moffett & John Rowan – Ford Fiesta RRC

1. Derek McGarrity & James McKee – Subaru Impreza WRC
2. Kenny McKinstry & Noel Orr – Subaru Impreza WRC
3. Wesley Patterson & Johnny Baird – Ford Escort Mk2


1. Emil Bergkvist / Joakim Sjoberg – Opel Adam R2
2. Marijan Griebel / Stefan Clemens – Opel Adam R2
3. Chris Ingram / Gabin Moreau – Peugeot 208 R2

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