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Circuit of Ireland ERC: Esapekka Lappi stuns with day one lead

Esapekka Lappi, Skoda, Circuit of Ireland ERC 2014

Rising Finnish star Esapekka Lappi rocked the Irish establishment with a stunning opening day to lead the European Rally Championship's Circuit of Ireland.

The Skoda driver put aside his lack of knowledge of the Northern Irish stages to reel off seven straight fastest times, building an 18-second advantage over Peugeot's Craig Breen.

Local hero Breen had been forced into an early third place before his team-mate Kevin Abbring damaged his radiator on SS6. The Dutchman's 208 T16 was sidelined one stage later.

There were no such dramas for Lappi, who admitted he had even surprised himself.

"I didn't expect this," he said "I just felt comfortable with the car all day.

"This morning was perfect, we could just fly over the bumps with no problems at all.

"At service, all we did was put some new tyres on and we were ready to go again."

Breen nibbled a tenth of a second out of Lappi's lead on the second run at Lough Henney before pulling four back on the day's penultimate test.

He further reduced that gap on Newtownards to arrive back in the Titanic quarter 12.6s behind the leader.

"It's been OK today," Breen said. "We lost the screen this morning and that meant the rear wing dropped down a bit and gave us less downforce - that didn't help.

"The afternoon has been really good. I'm not happy to be second, but I am absolutely loving this event."

Watch Circuit of Ireland highlights videos on the AUTOSPORT rallying page

Qualifying stage winner Robert Barrable is an increasingly distant third in his Ford Fiesta R5.

The WRC2 driver ends Friday 1m40.2s off the lead, but nine seconds ahead of Lappi's team-mate Sepp Wiegand. The German is all at sea trying to find his way over the bumpy asphalt roads.

Sam Moffett is running fifth on his Fiesta RRC debut, one place ahead of ERC regular Robert Consani.

Saturday's final day includes a further eight stages and 73 competitive miles.

Leading positions after SS10:

Pos  Driver           Team/Car              Time/Gap
 1.  Esapekka Lappi   Skoda                 59m11.2s
 2.  Craig Breen      Sainteloc Peugeot       +12.6s
 3.  Robert Barrable  CA1 Ford              +1m40.2s
 4.  Sepp Wiegand     Skoda                 +1m49.0s
 5.  Sam Moffett      Combilift Ford        +2m05.5s
 6.  Robert Consani   Delta Peugeot         +3m05.4s
 7.  Neil Simpson     Simpsons Skoda        +3m53.2s
 8.  Daniel McKenna   Greer Citroen         +5m45.5s
 9.  Josh Moffett     Combilift Mitsubishi  +6m00.2s
10.  Chris Ingram     JB Malherbe Renault   +6m50.5s
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