This weekend sees the return of the European Rally Championship to these shores when the iconic Circuit of Ireland Rally gets into gear. The rally, which is one of the oldest in the world, starts on Thursday afternoon just outside Belfast where competing crews will tackle the qualifying and shakedown stage.
Number 1 on the road will be Ireland’s own Craig Breen. The talented Waterford driver currently lies second in the European Championship having won the previous round in Latvia and the Circuit of Ireland trophy is one he would love to have on his mantelpiece. Breen carried out a test earlier this week in his Peugeot 208 T16 and the 25 year old is many people’s tip for victory over the Easter Weekend. He will face stiff competition however from current Championship leader, Polish driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz and the fast but erratic Russian, Alexey Lukanyuk. Both of the Eastern European chargers will be behind the wheel of Ford Fiesta R5s this weekend.
A number of Irish crews have decided to enter the international section of the event to test themselves against the best in Europe and some of them may well spring a surprise on the iconic Easter event. Dubliner Robert Barrable finished third on the Circuit of Ireland last year and will start at number 6. Behind him, Monaghan driver Sam Moffett is also well placed to make an impression on the leader board. Sam’s brother Josh will start at number 12 and the pair will drive identical Ford Fiesta RRCs. Last year’s Motorsport Ireland Young Rally Driver of the Year, Stephen Wright, will start at 14 and there is also Irish interest among the junior category where Kevin Eves from Pettigo in Donegal will go head to head with the best young drivers in Europe for the first time.
In the national section of the event Declan Boyle is the top seed. Boyle will be desperate for a good points haul on the Circuit following a string of bad results in an effort to defend his Irish Tarmac Championship title, of which the Circuit is also a counting round. The Circuit of Ireland has also attracted some unusual entries including Hollywood actor Idris Elba and Russian glamour model, Inessa Tushkanova. Popular country singer Nathan Carter will also sample the event. After a ceremonial start on Thursday evening the rally starts on Friday morning where the crews will tackle 18 stages over 2 days with the winners returning to Belfast’s Titantic Quarter at 6.35pm on Saturday.
The Circuit of Ireland is round 3 of the FIA European Rally Championship and round 3 of the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship.
Image from Michael Chester