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22 Apr 2016

FIA ERC Circuit of Ireland 2016

Circuit of Ireland 2016

Jump, Jump, JUMP

Text: Reinis Babrovskis & Patrick McCullagh
Photos: Reinis Babrovkis

Craig Breen claimed the top place on the podium at the Circuit of Ireland 2016 repeating his last year’s success; but just like previous year the victory wasn't just handed to him on a plate. The Irishman had a close and nerve wrecking fight between him and Kajetan Kajetanowicz throughout the weekend until the Polish talented driver admitted to another defeat.
One of the oldest rallies in Europe – “Circuit of Ireland” just celebrated its 85th birthday; this iconic rally has been visited by many heroes over the years. One of them - Ari Vatanen attended this year’s event as a guest whilst his son took place behind the wheel.
FIA ERC Circuit of Ireland 2016 was exactly what the rally scene needed here to turn the things around, and hopefully get the people back into the motorsport – a massive entry list, big names and picturesque stages. It is a simple yet effective formula that works. The rally has been smothered by all the rules and restrictions – from Health and Safety to ridiculous car restrictions, however, this year it all came together and it was one of the best rallies to hit these shores in the recent years.
If there is one thing the Irish motorsport is good for it is the huge variety of vehicles that enter the events – you get spoilt from iconic cars like Lancia Stratos to modern day WRC and R5 spec rally cars. And the insanely talented drivers of course...
But let's be honest this is Ireland and if you imagine spectating and rallying here is easy, think again. There is the dark side of the rally that nobody ever mentions - miles and miles of walking, hours of waiting and then there is the weather but you know what? It is all worth it once the first car flies past you!
There was no way on earth I'd pass this for anything in the world, so we packed up and got ready to follow the COI 2016.
The pre rally forum was held on Wednesday evening at the Kings Hall complex in Belfast where the rally legend Ari Vatanen, alongside Elfyn Evans and Keith Cronin was interviewed by the World Rally Radio DJ Becs Williams. The trio shared some of their exciting rally stories talked about their future plans, as well as happily posed for some photos and gave autographs. If that wasn’t enough two of the iconic Ari’s cars were posing outside as well for anybody that wanted to get a closer look at these beautiful historic cars.
Despite having to do their own super special stage to beat the rush hour traffic hundreds of people somehow managed to get to the ceremonial start on Thursday evening in time. The ceremonial start ramp was moved from Belfast’s City Hall to Lisburn’s Linen Museum. (Whose idea was it to hold the start ramp outside the busiest city in Northern Ireland at that time of the day?). The event was hosted by Becsy and included various guests like X-Factor’s judge Louis Walsh, Vatanen Jr. and others. Despite the Irish weather it was a great night with lots of laughter and great performances.
Once the official ceremonial launch was over the highest qualifiers chose their road position for the next morning. With no road cleaning duties at COI drivers opted for the first available places.

Anyway, on to the rally… 
How the action unfolded:


The opening stage of the rally would see the crews tackle the Cairncastle stage. Although conditions where dry out there it would prove sloppy in places and cause issues for some competitors. Welshman Elfyn Evans with Craig Parry on the notes would set the fastest time over the 21km stage taking 6 seconds plus off last year's winner Craig Breen who was running in a Citroen DS3.
Keith Cronin was, however, in trouble with sky rocketing temperatures after an excursion and an argument with a bank. Evans would take the Stage 2 victory as well despite some concerns over his power steering.
Stage 3 "The Glen's" was an arduous 31.21km stage that would not allow all those who entered it to make it out unscathed. The rally leader would be the first competitor to feel it. Evans' Fiesta would end up succumbing to those steering worries and his rally would be over. Craig Breen however had a great stage taking 24 seconds out of his nearest rival Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
Other notable Irish entries in the Top 10 at this point where Alastair Fisher in a strong 3rd, Marty McCormack was flying in his S2000 embarrassing a lot of quicker, newer machinery splitting the R5 pack right down the middle in 5th. Josh Moffett was winning the battle of the Moffett brothers sitting in 6th place, Sam 9th with a slipping clutch in his Fiesta. Rounding off the top 10 was Jonny Greer in his Citroen DS3.
Stage 5 would see the end of the proper stages with only a short spectator stage left to complete in Newtownards. By the end of Glendun Breen had piloted his DS3 to a 36.1 second lead over Kajetanowicz. Alastair Fisher had closed the gap to Kajetanowicz in 3rd with Fedrik Ahlin in yet another Fiesta in 4th place.
Those spectator stages don't count for much right. What could possibly go wrong? Spectator stages are often disliked by crews as they are often short tests that comprise of "niggley chicanes and square lefts with the odd straight thrown in. Rally leader Craig Breen had a spin and Ahlin hit a curb and damaged his suspension dropping him in between the Combilift Fiestas of the brothers' Moffett. Alastair Fisher would close the gap to Kajetanowicz by setting the fastest time on this "Mickey-Mouse" stage. The national rally was being lead by Derek McGarrity in his Fiesta WRC from Wesley Patterson's MkII Escort.

Leg 2

Like day one Elfyn Evans would take the morning's first stage victory. Evans decided to run in Rally 2 and I am sure he was delighted with his pace but infinitely disappointed that his time would have little or no impact on the overall leader-board. Of the top 10 runners it was Josh Moffett that was wide awake but only by less than a second from Kajetanowicz, Fisher and Ahlin whose Fiesta was not feeling the ill effects of the previous night's mishap.
Hamilton's Folly and Bulls Brooks would be the next tests to be tackled for the crews. Kajetanowicz was fastest on both stages closing the gap to Breen to just 8 seconds. Fisher has dropped just a few seconds to Kajetanowicz and is 9 seconds back.
The flying Skoda of Marty McCormack would fly no longer after having fuel pump issues on the Bulls Brooks stage which was an awful shame. Sam Moffett would end up on top of a bank after locking up at a junction. Jonny Greer had settled in really well and was posting more competitive times seeing him in 6th place.
After Stage 9 Breen decided to stop the rot taking 2 seconds out of his nearest rival. Fisher was 3 down on Kajetanowicz and seemed to be content with 3rd and a bag full of points for his championship campaign. In the slippy conditions it would seem as Fredrik Ahlin's luck would finally run out with him making a visit to the scenery.
Half way through the final leg and Irishman Stephen Wright appeared in the top 10 having had a slow start due to using new types with Stephen admitting they had been taking time to get use to. The National rally was still being led by McGarrity's WRC Fiesta but now from Ollie Mellors' Proton as he had slipped past Wesley Patterson's Escort. Rounding off the national Top 5 was Declan McNaughton and Alistair Cochrane in 4th and 5th respectively. 
Stage 11 would see Breen increase his lead to 12 seconds over Polish crew of Kajetanowicz and Baran. Fisher and Moffett seemingly content with 3rd and 4th as they concentrate on getting a good haul of points. Jaromir Tarabus in his Skoda Fabia R5 was sitting in a super consistent 5th place during most of the day rally.
The National Rally would see Derek McGarrity take the win in Fiesta WRC from the Proton of Ollie Mellors and 3rd for Wesley Patterson. Group N was taken by the Lancer Evolution of Clive Kilpatrick.
Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble came home in 3rd in the Modern Tyres Fiesta and Josh Moffett and John Rowan 4th in his Combilift R5 Fiesta despite brake issues causing some concerns for the Monaghan crew. Jonny Greer came in a very credible 5th in the DGM prepared Citroen DS3. David Bogie, Tom Cave, Stephen Wright, Joe McGonigle and Jaraslaw Koltun took the remaining places in the Top 10.
The final loop would see Craig Breen have to try very hard to keep Kajetanowicz behind. With 3 stages to go and only 12 seconds in it a mere spin and stall could erode away that gap leaving a very hectic finish to the event. It was not to be though and despite clipping a wheel on Hamilton's Folly Breen was able to hold off Kajetanowicz for another Circuit of Ireland victory.
The prestigious Colin McRae's "Flat Out" award that is given to the most committed driver of the FIA ERC went to the Opel Academy young and very talented driver Marijan Griebel who was leading the class until a flat tire destroyed his hopes for a victory; nevertheless, he never gave up and demonstrated a superb drive over both days!
It was a truly amazing Circuit of Ireland and exactly what was needed to boost back the popularity of the motorsport here in Northern Ireland! Well done to the organisers!

Bonus Images:

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