Andreas Mikkelsen takes early Circuit of Ireland lead for Skoda UK
Andreas Mikkelsen holds a narrow lead over Juho Hanninen after the first three stages of the Circuit of Ireland
The last two Intercontinental Rally Challenge champions head for the mid-evening service 2.8 seconds apart, amid slippery conditions on the Irish roads.
Skoda UK's Mikkelsen had taken the lead on SS2, Drummond, and was initially five seconds clear, but a small mistake on the following Legane stage allowed Hanninen to close back in.
Hanninen's factory Skoda team-mate Jan Kopecky had set the pace on the opening Titanic superspecial, before losing touch with the leaders on the full-length stages, where he admitted he was not feeling comfortable. The Czech driver is already 28s adrift.
The local drivers have been unable to match the IRC frontrunners so far. Craig Breen is 11s behind Kopecky as he holds fourth in the Sainteloc Peugeot, while Alastair Fisher's Ford is back in sixth. They are split by Breen's team-mate Mathieu Arzeno, despite early gearbox worries for the Frenchman, and just 8.4s covers all three.
Sepp Wiegand was second on the Titanic stage and stayed up in fifth after Drummond, before a puncture on Legane dropped his Skoda Deutschland Fabia to 10th.
After service, the drivers will return to Drummond and Legane to tackle the stages again in darkness.
Leading positions after SS3:Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Andreas Mikkelsen Skoda UK 26m39.0s 2. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 2.8s 3. Jan Kopecky Skoda + 28.2s 4. Craig Breen Sainteloc Peugeot + 39.4s 5. Mathieu Arzeno Sainteloc Peugeot + 43.3s 6. Alastair Fisher M-Sport Ford + 47.8s 7. Robert Barrable CA1 Skoda + 1m02.4s 8. Sam Moffet Mitsubishi + 2m02.8s 9. Garry Jennings Mitsubishi + 2m09.1s 10. Sepp Wiegand Skoda Deutschland + 2m16.9s
The fifth Intercontinental Rally Challenge was the best yet, and it was Skoda UK driver Andreas Mikkelsen who emerged as champion from a tense five-way shootout at the season finale. Matt Beer reviews the season