Last year Peugeot Rally Academy driver Craig Breen arrived home for round four of the European Rally Championship the Circuit of Ireland in a blaze of glory. Having scored his first ERC victory in the all new R5 specification Peugeot 208 T16, Craig and the team chose to add to the excitement by giving the car its debut on Irish soil in Kerry as a pre-event test before taking on the legendary all asphalt round. Despite showing great speed as they battled for the lead with their ERC rival things didn’t go according to plan for Craig and his co-driver Scott Martin. Teething problems with their new machine side-lined the Peugeot pair early on day two and denied the thousands of Irish fans lining the route in glorious sun shine the Breen win they were hoping for.
A year on the “Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally” will this time play host to the third round of the championship and will be the first pure asphalt rally of the season. With twelve months experience behind the wheel of the 208 T16 and reliability issues behind him the Peugeot Rally Academy driver is not only the number one seed but has already won in 2015 making him the clear favourite to win yet again. As always the rally takes place at Easter and will run from Thursday April 3rd to Saturday April 6th whereThursday will see a shakedown and qualifying stage to determine running order for Leg1 on Friday. Thursday will also see an opportunity for fans to get up close to all the competitors at an Autograph session and the traditional ceremonial start outside Belfast City Hall.
The real action will get underway when the cars roll out of the service park at Titanic Belfast on Friday morning and after crossing the podium in Downpatrick will go on to tackle three classic tests Bucks Head, Hamilton’s Folly and Lough Henney. These three exciting stages challenged even Europe’s best drivers in 2014 and Craig will be keen to put on a spectacular show against his rivals to thrill the fans on the two passes through them during the day. Before the Peugeot Rally Academy crew head back for the overnight halt at Titanic Belfast they will end the day with two timed runs over the spectator packed streets of the Newtownards TT Special stage.
Not only will the Saturday stages be in a different area but it will be a longer day with two extra stages adding almost forty competitive kilometres to that of the previous day before the cars return to the finish podium at Titanic Belfast that evening.
As the pre-event excitement builds Craig has been training hard in the weeks since the last round in Latvia and though confident he is under no illusions that taking the win will be easy. There are forty five ERC registered drivers to contend with including championship leader Kajetan Kajentanowicz from Poland along with Craig’s main points rivals Robert Consani and Alexey Lukyanuk. When pressed as to who he felt he would face the toughest competition from Craig said “It really could be anyone. Kajetanowicz will be very quick and while I don’t think Alexey Lukyanuk has done a rally on Tarmac before, he’ll be very quick too. There are also a lot of local drivers who’ll be doing the event, so you have to consider them as well. It’s impossible to pinpoint anyone at this stage”. The Peugeot Rally Academy line-up will be full on this occasion with Craig, Charles Martin (208T16) and Diogo Gago (208R2).