ERC Asphalt Masters thunder into high-speed action in Northern Ireland.


EVENT PREVIEW: 2015 FIA European Rally Championship, round three of 10
Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally, 2-4 April

28 March 2015

A magnificent 53-car entry will contest the first pure asphalt event of the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship season, the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally from 2-4 April.

The star-studded list includes 18 drivers in headlining R5 and Super 2000 cars and 19 of the sport’s most promising future talents in the ERC Junior Championship. Eighteen nations will be represented on the challenging Tarmac roads of Northern Ireland over the Bank Holiday weekend, with Belfast’s Titanic Quarter hosting the action and a share of a 20,000 prize fund, pledged by ERC promoter Eurosport Events, up for grabs.

With the first running of the event in 1931, the Circuit of Ireland is the third oldest rally in the world and the list of former winners includes legends such as Paddy Hopkirk and Colin McRae. However, drivers from Finland have dominated in recent years with Juho Hänninen and Esapekka Lappi winning in 2012 and 2014 respectively prior to claiming the prestigious European title.

This year’s event covers 215.22 kilometres and begins with a 3.22-kilometre Qualifying Stage on Thursday 2 April, which will help to determine the running order for leg one. Friday’s action contains eight stages totalling 87.04 kilometres and includes two visits to the famous Hamilton’s Folly test. The day finishes with two runs over the Newtownards TT street stage when more than 25,000 fans are expected to watch the action. Ten stages, covering a distance of 128.18 kilometres, are scheduled for Saturday with crews twice tackling the rally’s longest test – the 26.02 kilometres of McGaffins Corner – in addition to two passes through Lisburn’s town centre stage ahead of the evening finish in Belfast.

ERC ace Breen eager to join Circuit of Ireland heroes
Craig Breen aims to follow in a long and distinguished line of Irish drivers to win the Circuit of Ireland Rally, and in particular his “absolute hero and inspiration” Frank Meagher. An Irish rallying legend, Meagher won the Circuit in 1992 in a Ford Sierra Cosworth and, for the next 10 years, his spectacular driving style captured young Breen’s imagination. A good haul of ERC points is still the most important goal for the Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 driver, but there is no denying that Breen, a winner last time out in Latvia, would dearly love to add Circuit glory to his impressive CV. “I’ve got a big thing in my heart for the Circuit of Ireland,” said Breen. “It’s always been a dream of mine to follow my hero and put my name on the winner’s trophy too.”

Ireland versus Europe in intriguing ERC Tarmac encounter
Some of Ireland’s best drivers will go head-to-head for victory with Europe’s elite on the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally. In addition to Craig Breen, other Irish hopefuls include brothers Sam and Josh Moffett, who begin their ERC campaigns in identical Ford Fiesta RRCs, and Dublin’s Robert Barrable, who finished third on the event last year. Jonny Greer will be one to watch in his Citroën DS3 R5, Martin McCormack has recent world championship experience, while Stephen Wright graduates from ERC Junior. Alastair Fisher, nephew of event legend Bertie Fisher, gets a Ford Fiesta R5 for his Circuit return and will be a contender for victory. Of the European contingent, top Pole and ERC leader Kajetan Kajetanowicz makes his Circuit debut in a LOTOS Rally Team Fiesta R5, while Charles Martin’s event preparations were given a boost when the 208 Rally Cup champion won his class on Rallye du Touquet – the Frenchman’s first outing in his Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16. Czech drivers Jaromír Tarabus and Antonín Tlusťák (both ŠKODA Fabia S2000) are asphalt experts, although Alexey Lukyanuk (Belarus) and Estonia’s Raul Jeets have limited sealed-surface experience. Robert Consani will debut his new Citroën DS3 R5. Although he has started the Circuit of Ireland twice he admits a tough test is in prospect: “A difficult task awaits us with the learning of this car, the work of adjustments looks huge, but we are looking forward to familiarising ourselves with this fantastic car.” Elsewhere Italian Giacomo Costenaro is armed with a Peugeot 207 S2000, while Scottish champion Euan Thorburn will swap gravel for asphalt for his ERC programme. All drivers will challenge for points in the ERC Asphalt Masters, which begins in Northern Ireland, and recognises the performances of surface specialists competing in the championship.

ERC2 head-to-head for Botka and Štajf in Northern Ireland
Dávid Botka makes his Circuit of Ireland debut with a slender two-point ERC2 class lead. Having recently returned from a family holiday in Bali, the 30-year-old Hungarian prepared for the event by taking his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX to a short 40-kilometre rally in Orfű. Vojtěch Štajf is second in ERC2, and while the Tarmac expert has never competed in Northern Ireland before, he was a spectator on Rally Ireland in 1997. The Subaru Impreza WRX STI driver has likened the Circuit stages to the narrow, bumpy and undulating tests in his native Czech Republic. Krisztián Hideg has shown great pace this year, but running position and luck haven’t been on his side. The Mitsubishi driver has a great chance to close the gap on the leaders and re-ignite his title challenge. Tibor Érdi makes his first appearance in the 2015 ERC, while glamour model Inessa Tushkanova will hope her Circuit debut – and new Lancer – will help her to the lead in the ERC Ladies’ Trophy.

Record-breaking ERC Junior entry prepares to go flat-out in Northern Ireland
A record-breaking 19 drivers will compete for ERC Junior honours on the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally, and an intriguing mix of Tarmac experts and novices will make it a fascinating and furious encounter. ADAC Opel Rallye Junior Team’s Emil Bergkvist (Sweden) triumphed in Latvia and, like team-mate Marijan Griebel (Germany), has tackled a handful of practice events during this Circuit build-up. Julius Tannert starts in Northern Ireland on the back of winning the ADAC Saarland-Pfalz Rallye in his native Germany, while Gino Bux has also tasted victory in recent weeks, taking his Peugeot Belgium Luxembourg 208 to Junior and 2WD class success – plus fifth overall – on the Spa Rally. Poland’s Aleks Zawada was battling for a podium position on last year’s Circuit until two punctures on the final day dropped him to fifth. He will undoubtedly be fast, as he pilots his Opel Motorsport-supported Adam R2 on Tarmac for the first time. Steve Røkland (208) arrives in Northern Ireland second in ERC Junior and has previous experience of competing in the country through his past British championship exploits. Ralfs Sirmacis is third in ERC Junior, and a two-day Tarmac test in the Czech Republic has prepared him well. He will be joined by his Sport Racing Technologies team-mate Vasily Gryazin (both in 208s). Portugal’s Diogo Gago will have a new Peugeot Rally Academy 208, while 18-year-old Hungarian Kristóf Klausz will debut a 208 having made the switch from his Renault Clio R3. Łukasz Pieniążek prefers Tarmac to gravel, and despite not knowing the Northern Irish lanes should impress in his 208. Mattias Adielsson rolled his 208 on Rally Liepāja, yet the double Swedish R2 champion still showed huge potential by finishing fourth. Florin Tincescu will make his first ERC start of 2015 in a new Napoca Rally Academy 208, having swapped from a Citroën C2R2 Max over the winter. With a new car, a new co-driver in Sergiu Itu and his first Circuit appearance, the Romanian is likely to make a cautious start. There is plenty of British and Irish talent that will be counting the Circuit as their trump card. Chris Ingram led last year before crashing out, but the performance earned him the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy. He returns in a Peugeot UK-supported 208. Local aces Jon Armstrong (Peugeot) and Calvin Beattie should impress in Northern Ireland, with Beattie, Irishman Kevin Eves, England’s Gus Greensmith and Scot Fergus Barlow making their first starts in ERC Junior. Pre-event quotes from all ERC Junior drivers are attached.

Rally return for ERC Ladies’ Trophy champion
ERC Ladies’ Trophy champion Ekaterina Stratieva, from Bulgaria, returns to action with new co-driver Julianna Nyírfás, who partnered Zoltán Bessenyey to back-to-back ERC 2WD titles in 2013 and 2014. Rok Turk (Peugeot 208 R2) and Szabolcs Várkonyi (Honda Civic Type R) will be aiming to make up ground in the ERC3 title race against the 19 ERC Junior contenders who are also eligible for category points.

ERC Radio – live from Northern Ireland in 63 countries
The live FIA European Rally Championship radio service, ERC Radio, has been listened to in 63 countries this year – and its international audience is rising. Available free at and via the ERC app, ERC Radio reporters Julian Porter and Chris Rawes will broadcast live from the Circuit of Ireland Qualifying Stage, every stage stop line and every service halt. Together with producer Mark Jones in the ERC Radio studio, even the remotest areas are covered. “Our most popular country for loyal listeners of ERC Radio is Poland,” said Rawes. “We also have a huge following in the UK, Latvia, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, Austria, France, Estonia and Belgium. Other countries that have an interest in the ERC – and which regularly tune into ERC Radio – include the United States, Australia, Japan, Russia, Argentina and South Africa.” To contact ERC Radio during the event email

Record-breaking 70 ERC registrations
The FIA European Rally Championship has received 70 registrations for the 2015 series – over three times the target set by promoter Eurosport Events at the start of the year. A total of 24 R5 and Super 2000 drivers have registered and 12 are registered for ERC2 (NR4 production). An incredible 33 drivers have registered for ERC3 (R1, R2 and R3), of which 22 are ERC Junior competitors. There are several benefits to registering such as receiving priority status, being eligible for the round-by-round prize fund, having access to the ERC Village in service parks and an attractive media package. Visit for more details.

Enter stage right for Hollywood actor Elba
Hollywood superstar Idris Elba will make his Circuit of Ireland debut aboard a Ford Fiesta R1. Co-driven by Northern Irishman Michael Orr, the British 42-year-old star of Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom and BBC crime thriller series Luther will have a camera crew following his every understeer and oversteer as he films a TV documentary series (Idris Elba: Speed Demon) for the Discovery Channel. Robert Woodside will be another driver to watch in his spectacular Porsche 911 RGT.

Craig Breen would love to follow in the wheel tracks of his Irish rally heroes and win the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally. So, ahead of his home round of the FIA European Rally Championship, we asked the 25-year-old Peugeot Rally Academy 208 T16 driver about his hopes and aims for this year’s event.

How have you prepared for year’s Circuit of Ireland, and have your preparations gone well?
“I try not to do anything too much different to any other event really. There isn’t much I can do except go over my pace notes from last year and try and make some improvements by watching the in-car videos. We have a test on Monday close to my home that I’m looking forward to, but other than that it’s business as usual.”

Given you have one big and one low score in this year’s ERC, how important is a good result on this year’s Circuit of Ireland for your title challenge?
“It’s very important. We’d like to carry on from where we finished off in Latvia. That was a good result in very difficult conditions, so it’s important to build on that win. I consider the Circuit of Ireland to be just like any other event – they’re all important rallies in the ERC.”

Do you feel you have a true home advantage, or are there too many other local drivers who have the potential to take ERC points away from you?
“I haven’t got any more home advantage on the Circuit than I have with any of the other events I did last year. I live a four-hour drive away on the other side of the country, and while it’s not the biggest island in the world, I don’t spend any time up where the rally takes place. When I arrive to do the recce it will be the first time I’ve been on the stages since last year. Of course it is more comfortable when you’re at home and a lot of my friends and family will be there. The support you get from the fans, that’s where the home advantage will come from.”

Looking at your visiting ERC rivals, who do you expect to be the most competitive?
“Kajetan Kajetanowicz will definitely be a force to be reckoned with – he’s very strong on Tarmac and he’ll be a big threat. The drivers from the Czech Republic are always quick on Tarmac and then you have Alexey Lukyanuk. Tarmac might be new to him, but he’ll be fast. And there are all the very fast locals drivers in R5 cars, like Sam and Josh Moffett and Alastair Fisher. It will be a good battle, that’s for sure.”

Would anything less than victory in Ireland be a disappointment for you?
“Yes! If it were any other event, I’d say no, so long as we scored a good haul of points, but I’ve got a big thing in my heart for the Circuit of Ireland. Outside the ERC, it’s got a big name, and I remember going to watch the event as a kid as it passed Waterford. My absolute hero and inspiration was Frank Meagher, who won the Circuit of Ireland in 1992. It’s always been a dream of mine to follow my hero and put my name on the winner’s trophy too.”

*Circuit of Ireland Rally legend Paddy Hopkirk, who launched this year’s Ards Town Centre Special Stage, won the Circuit five times in 1958, ’61, ’62, ’65 and ’67.
*When first run in 1931, the Circuit of Ireland was called the Ulster Motor Rally. It featured multiple starting points in a manner similar to Rallye Monte-Carlo and was won by Jimmy McCaherty and Winslow Trimble in an Austin 16 Saloon.
*The Circuit of Ireland has been subjected to cancellation in the past with the outbreak of the Second World War, the Suez Crisis of 1957, a bout of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 and heavy snowfall in 2013 all leading to the event’s postponement.
*Crews would tackle upwards of 1000 competitive stage kilometres during the event’s early years but it’s a slightly more sedate 215 kilometres in 2015.
*Scotsman Jimmy McRae’s record seven Circuit victories were scored during the 1980s when the event counted as a round of the British championship.

Esapekka Lappi led from start to finish in his ŠKODA Motorsport Fabia Super 2000 to join Pentti Airikkala and Juho Hänninen as Finnish Circuit of Ireland winners. Sepp Wiegand made it a ŠKODA one-two after a close battle with Robert Barrable. The podium positions weren’t decided until Barrable overshot a junction and put his Ford Fiesta R5 into a field on the penultimate stage, resigning himself to third. Robert Consani finished fourth in his Peugeot 207 S2000, with British privateer Neil Simpson a fine fifth in his ex-works Fabia S2000. ERC 2WD winner Daniel McKenna took sixth in his Citroën DS3 R3T with ERC Production Car Cup pacesetter Josh Moffett seventh in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and ERC Junior victor Jan Černy an outstanding eighth in his Peugeot 208. Local favourite Craig Breen retired his Peugeot 208 T16 on Saturday’s opening stage with a sensor problem, while Sam Moffett had been in the mix for a podium finish in his Ford Fiesta RRC, only for a fuel pressure issue to force his exit after SS12. Aged just 19, Chris Ingram became the youngest driver to win the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy; he had been leading the ERC Juniors before crashing his Renault Twingo R2 EVO on SS13.

EVENT ESSENTIALS (all timings local)
Starts: 19h00, Thursday 2 April, Belfast City Hall
Finishes: 18h45, Saturday 4 April, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
Headquarters: Titanic House, 6 Queens Road, Belfast BT3 9DT
Service park: Titanic Quarter, Belfast
ERC appearances (since the restructuring in 2004): One (2014)
Stages: 18
Stage distance: 215.22 kilometres (87.04 kilometres leg one, 128.18 kilometres leg two)
Liaison: 462.47 kilometres
Total: 677.69 kilometres
Surface: Asphalt

Media accreditation/media centre: Titanic House, 6 Queens Road, Belfast BT3 9DT
Opening times: 07h00-20h00, Thursday 2 April; 07h00-00h00, Friday 3 April; 07h00-22h00, Saturday 4 April
Thursday 2 April
Free Practice (for priority drivers): 11h00-12h30, Whinney Hill (3.22 kilometres), 10.87 kilometres from the service park
Qualifying Stage (for priority drivers): 14h00, Whinney Hill (3.22 kilometres)
Shakedown (for non-priority drivers): 15h00-16h15, Whinney Hill (3.22 kilometres)
Autograph signing session: 17h30-18h00, Belfast City Hall
Start order selection: 18h00, Belfast City Hall
Pre-rally press conference: Immediately following the start order selection
Ceremonial start: 19h00, Belfast City Hall
Saturday 4 April
Post-event press conference: 19h15, Titanic Quarter, Belfast. Top three drivers and co-drivers and leading ERC Junior crew in attendance
Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy presentation: Immediately following the post-event press conference, Media Centre






Paul Evans

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