Craig Breen triumphed in a renewed rivalry with Kajetan Kajetanowicz to win the Circuit of Ireland for the second straight year upon his return to the FIA European Rally Championship.

Leading ever since a sublime drive on the longest stage of the rally on SS3, Breen had over half a minute in hand at service on Friday evening, but a spin on the subsequent Newtownards TT street stage was followed by further time losses at the start of leg two when the decision to run super-soft tyres left him unable to match the times of his 2015 ERC title rival Kajetanowicz.

On a charge, defending ERC champion Kajetanowicz had brought the gap down to just over 10 seconds by the mid-day service, and after a rock in the road damaged Breen's left-rear tyre on SS12, there were a mere 5.2s between them with two stages to go. Breen responded perfectly however with a fastest time in the penultimate stage in his Michelin tyres-shod Citroen DS3 R5 and finished up 10.6s clear.

The Irish driver, who achieved a childhood dream by winning the rally for the first time last year, said: "I have to thank everybody for making this possible. I felt it slipping from my grasp today, we really had to dig deep."

As in 2015, Kajetanowicz had to make do with second place behind Breen on the asphalt roads of Northern Ireland, but moves into the ERC standings lead in the absence of Alexey Lukyanuk. The Russian won the season-opening Rally Islas Canarias El Corte Ingles but was forced to miss the Circuit of Ireland because of a crash in pre-event testing.

Alastair Fisher made up for the disappointment of retirements on his last two Circuit of Ireland starts by completing the podium on an event his uncle Bertie won three times. With a quick and consistent performance, the Ford Fiesta R5 driver held third place after all but the second stage of the rally.

Jaromir Tarabus was poised to begin his 2016 ERC campaign with a top-five finish, and was within five seconds of fourth-placed Josh Moffett going onto the final stage, but the Skoda Fabia R5 driver slid into a ditch on the last test.

Others to lose strong positions on the second leg were Martin McCormack, who was fourth in his Super 2000-specification Fabia before a fuel pump failed, and Fredrik Ahlin, who shone on his first asphalt rally since 2012 until he broke his Fiesta R5's steering.

Jonny Greer made the most of his local knowledge to stay out of trouble and finish fifth in his Citroen, a year after a fire robbed him of sixth place at the end of the final stage. David Bogie had a nightmare start to the event when a crash in Free Practice ruled him out of the Qualifying Stage, but he recovered well to finish sixth in his Fabia R5. Tom Cave had to put up with a gearbox problem for much of leg two but took eighth behind fellow Fiesta R5 driver Stephen Wright, while Joseph McGonigle got his Fabia S2000 home ninth in spite of back pain incurred in a heavy landing on a jump. As in the Canary Islands, Jaroslaw Koltun produced a largely trouble-free run to make the top 10, benefitting when Robert Woodside crashed his similar Fiesta R5 on SS11.

After a mechanical problem stopped him when leading early in the event, Elfyn Evans restarted for leg two and set four fastest times from five stages before hitting a wall on SS12 in his Fiesta R5.

The FIA European Rally Championship now continues next month with the Acropolis Rally running from May 6-8.

Top 10 positions (after 14 stages, 209.56 kilometres)

1. Craig Breen (IRL)/Scott Martin (GBR) Citroen DS3 R5 1h54m16.1s
2. Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Jaroslaw Baran (POL) Ford Fiesta R5 +10.6s
3. Alastair Fisher (GBR)/Gordon Noble (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +56.4s
4. Josh Moffett (IRL)/Gordon Noble (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +1m40.1s
5. Jonathan Greer (GBR)/Kirsty Riddick (GBR) Citroen DS3 R5 +2m07.0s
6. David Bogie (GBR)/Kevin Rae (GBR) Skoda Fabia R5 +2m55.6s
7. Stephen Wright (IRL)/James Fulton (IRL) Ford Fiesta R5 +4m36.1s
8. Tom Cave (GBR)/James Morgan (GBR) Ford Fiesta R5 +4m51.1s
9. Joseph McGonigle (IRL)/Ciaran Geaney (IRL) Skoda Fabia S2000 +5m52.2s
10. Jaroslaw Koltun (POL)/Ireneusz Pleskot (POL) Ford Fiesta R5 +6m26.2s

FIA ERC2: Wojciech Chuchaa (POL)/Daniel Dymurski (POL) (Subaru Impreza STi)FIA ERC3: Lukasz Pieniazek (POL)/ Przemyslaw Mazur (POL) (Opel Adam R2)FIA ERC Junior: Lukasz Pieniazek (POL)/ Przemyslaw Mazur (POL) (Opel Adam R2)

Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy: Marijan Griebel (DEU)

 

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