Thursday 24 May 2018

Finnish duo seal Circuit of Ireland title

Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm, Skoda Fabia S2000 R5, in action on SS8 Lough Henney during the Circuit of Ireland Rally. ERC FIA European Rally Championship 2014. Ballynahinch, Co.Down Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm, Skoda Fabia S2000 R5, in action on SS8 Lough Henney during the Circuit of Ireland Rally. ERC FIA European Rally Championship 2014. Ballynahinch, Co.Down Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Paul Phelan

Finns Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm returned to Belfast as the clear winners of the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland International Rally, with their Skoda Fabia finishing the two-day event almost two minutes ahead of their nearest challengers, Sepp Wiegand and Frank Christian of Germany, who made it a Skoda 1-2.

Robert Barrable was the highest-placed of the home drivers in his Ford Fiesta, taking third position with his British co-driver Stuart Loudon, after holding second spot for much of day two, but the Dubliner slipped behind his German rivals on the second last stage when he overshot into a field.

Nevertheless, the former Billy Coleman Young Driver of the Year award winner put up a great performance, having a largely trouble-free drive to score his most impressive result yet, just 7.5 seconds behind Weigand.

Waterford's Craig Breen, who led the European Rally Championship following his win in the Acropolis Rally in Greece three weeks ago, was just 12.6 seconds behind Lappi at the end of the opening day.

Breen set best times on the last three of Friday's stages, and looked all set to mount a serious challenge for victory. However, it wasn't to be, and the Irishman's Peugeot 208 T16 was the final day's first casualty, being forced to retire with reported fuel pump failure.

The Fiesta of Monaghan's Sam Moffett, promoted to fourth place on Breen's demise, was next to drop out, also with fuel problems.

Daniel McKenna got his year as the Pirelli Star Driver off to a great start, bringing his Citroen DS3 home in sixth place overall and he was also the highest placed two-wheel drive car.

Another Monaghan driver, Josh Moffett, finished seventh and won the Production category in his Lancer Evo.

In a dramatic finish to the National Rally, long time leader and defending Irish Tarmac champion Garry Jennings went off the road twice in the final two stages, dropping 50 seconds to Dunlop National champion Declan Boyle the first time, and then retiring on the final stage, leaving the surprised Donegal driver to snatch a last-minute victory.

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