Irishman Josh Moffett and co-driver John Rowan won the second round of the MSA British Rally Championship after a weekend of attrition on the famous Circuit of Ireland.
No fewer than four drivers held the lead during the two-day event, but the 23-year old mastered the Belfast-based event in his Ford Fiesta R5 to claim a 27-second margin over Jonathan Greer and Kirsty Riddick in their Citroen DS3 R5. David Bogie and Kevin Rae made it three marques in the top three as they rounded out a Pirelli podium clean sweep in their Skoda Fabia R5.
The event started on Thursday evening where the cars and stars descended upon Lisburn city centre for a spectacular ceremonial start, where thousands of spectators lined the streets to see the crews cross the start ramp in front of the Irish Linen Museum.
The first day was to be a real challenge for the BRC crews, as treacherous stages and road conditions provided a real test. First on the road were championship leaders Elfyn Evans and Craig Parry, fresh from their opening round success in Mid Wales. The pair drew first blood on the opening stage, leading the event by six seconds before doubling their advantage on the second. Drama and retirement was to follow on stage three as the auxiliary belt let go on the DMACK Ford Fiesta R5. Restarting under 'superrally' rules, the WRC stars showed their class with four fastest overall stage times on Saturday before retiring again, this time after an accident.
Stepping into the breech was Marty McCormack (Skoda Fabia S2000) and Fredrik Ahlin (Fiesta R5). The pair had a ding-dong battle throughout Friday afternoon's stages with the Swede ahead of the Northern Irishman by a mere 2.6secs going into the final stage of the day. The 2.3km town centre stage was to provide a heart-stopping moment for the Ahlin as he made contact with a roadside kerb, damaging the rear left suspension. Amazingly, after effecting temporary repairs by the roadside he and co-driver Morten Erik Abrahamsen only lost 23secs and limped the car back to the overnight halt in order to continue on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Scandinavian pair, however, a crash on the following day put an end to their challenge.
The Circuit of Ireland showed its reputation as one of the most prestigious yet difficult rallying events in the world, as crew after crew fell by the wayside. Leading the field away on the second day, McCormack knew his S2000-spec Skoda would be challenged by the newer R5 cars, especially in the drying conditions, while Moffett began to capitalise on Ahlin's misfortunes.
The Irishman gained time on the opening two stages before leader McCormack came to a grinding halt with a fuel pump issue which brought a premature end to his weekend. Further drama was seen on the same stage as Sam Moffett lost his Fiesta R5 under braking for a tight left-hander, crashing into the undergrowth and out of fourth place.
As the final loop began, Josh Moffett continued his inspired form and established a comfortable gap ahead of Greer, who had enjoyed an uneventful rally, staying clear of trouble to take a first BRC podium finish since 2012.
“I didn't come here this weekend thinking we could win it as the competition in the BRC is unreal," Moffett admitted, "The first day, we took it easy as it was my first time over the stages, but we pushed really hard on the final day as the time was to be had. The conditions caught many out and we are glad we stayed clear of it all. The last stage was nerve-racking. I just wanted to get through it. I am so happy to have won the Circuit of Ireland. It's the biggest win of my career.”
Runner-up Greer appeared equally surprised at his finishing position.
“It's fantastic and not something we thought we could achieve at the start of the event," he confirmed, "The stages were unbelievable and the car worked fantastically and everything went very smoothly. With the difficult conditions on the first day, we knew we had to be as quick as possible and limit the amount of mistakes. We're delighted with the result and look forward to the next round in Carlisle.”
Bogie and Rae almost didn't make the event after an accident in Thursday's practice caused substantial damage to the car's radiator, but after the CA1 Sport team got them back into the event, the Scottish driver rewarded their efforts with an incident-filled third overall.
“We have good, strong points on the board which is brilliant after a hard, long rally," Bogie said, " We didn't get off to a good start on the practice stage, but it all came together and we grew in confidence after every mile. It was an eventful weekend as we made wrong tyre decisions and got stuck in a hedge and bounced off another, but many people made mistakes and, for me, it was all about staying out of trouble. With the settings we have now, we can go harder on the tarmac rounds later in the year.”
Tom Cave over came gearbox gremlins in his Fiesta R5 to chalk up a solid fourth place while Jamie Anderson, who had never competed in a tarmac event before, put in a fine drive to round out the top five in a similar Fiesta R5.
The DMACK Junior BRC series was to follow the BRC1 formula, as survival was the number one priority for a good finish. From the off, local man Robert Duggan in his Vauxhall Adam R2 took the early advantage. He wasn't to have it all his own way, however, as Mattias Adielsson was on his coat tails throughout. The team-mates traded fastest times all weekend, with the Swedish hotshot taking six class stage victories but ultimately succumbing to the raw pace of Duggan who came home with a 27.7secs victory.
“It was a tough event and Mattias really pushed us hard all weekend," the winner conceded, "It is difficult to put it into words, but a win on our home event is something else and we are absolutely delighted. It will have to sink in for a couple of days to really believe it. I can't wait for the Pirelli.”
No fewer than six drivers occupied third in the BRC Junior class over the course of the two-day event, before the final spot on the podium finally went to Adam Bustard, who otherwise had a nightmare of an event. The Northern Irishman broke a driveshaft on the opening test and had to run under 'superrally' rules the following day. Bustard plugged away and managed to pass Nabila Tejpar on the final stage of the event and, having had also played his 'Joker', doubled his points, bringing him back into the title chase. Aron Windrus was the final finisher on the event and he too had to restart the second day after engine gremlins.
In BRC2, young Patrick O'Brien kept a level head and built his confidence throughout the event to claim the victory on the classic tarmac test. Mid Wales Stages winner Matt Edwards had fuel pump issues before the start while Roland Llewellin broke a driveshaft just metres into the opening timed test. Both restarted the event, however, and scored valuable points towards their title challenges.
BRC4 Mid Wales Stages winner Tony Simpson was not present on the Circuit so a new winner would be crowned on the Emerald Isle. Callum Devine in an Opel Adam R2 led the charge initially but had to settle for second behind Marty Gallagher in a Ford Fiesta R2.
In the BRC National Rally Cup Donnie Macdonald won the class and walks away with 50 points having played his 'Joker'. The Scottish driver now leads the Championship heading to the Pirelli Carlisle Rally later this month.