Craig Breen won an epic Circuit of Ireland Rally in Belfast on Saturday evening, moving him to the front of the European Rally Championship title race
The Waterford driver's Peugeot 208 T16 was plagued by turbo problems for the duration of the event, but it was the sensational pace of Ford Fiesta R5 drivers Robert Barrable and Kajetan Kajetanowicz that really proved the thorn in Breen's side.
Having been out of a car for months, Barrable hired a CA1 Sport Fiesta and hit the ground running.
Fastest through qualifying, the Dubliner chose to run first on the road, predicting the sodden Ulster lanes would only get muddier and more slippery as cars passed.
He was in for a shock, however, when his side window fell out during the first stage. A noisy rear differential was of more concern as the day passed, but it didn't stop Barrable ending Friday's just 1.5 seconds behind Breen.
Breen's day had been one of frustration as his car's pop-off valve activated intermittently.
The valve is an R5 regulation part that stops cars overboosting. The effect is a complete loss of boost, requiring the driver to come off the throttle before pressure can rebuild in the turbo.
An overnight change of turbo didn't help muchm as the new blower was found wanting at lower revs.
Barrable hauled out an 8.5s lead on Saturday morning's opener, only for Breen to take all but a second of that back in McGaffin's Corner, which, at 16 miles, was the longest stage of the event.
Barrable rued his conservative decision to run a softer Pirelli, the covers moving about from the mid-point of the stage. But he still held a 1.8s advantage at the day's mid-point.
The pair traded tenths through the early part of the afternoon, heading back into the longest stage 1.1s apart. Disaster struck for Barrable on a slippery left, though, when he lost the car under braking and slid over a bank.
With two stages remaining, Breen's job looked considerably more simple. He went into the penultimate stage 19s ahead of Kajetanowicz, only to drop 15 of those with a spin in the first corner.
Fortunately for the Peugeot star, he kept his head through the last stage to claim an event he's dreamed about winning since he was a boy.
Predictably, emotion was running high at the end of the rally.
"I have nothing left," he said, "nothing in my body.
"Everybody in the team and everybody has rallied around me. It's unbelievable. I've won the Circuit of Ireland. Unbelievable."
Kajetanowicz's runner-up spot was almost as merit-worthy - finishing just six seconds behind an Irishman on your first shot at the Circuit is no mean result - and keeps the Pole at the sharp end of the title battle.
Josh and Sam Moffett were third and fourth in their Fiesta RRCs, while Emil Bergkvist impressed hugely with a 45-second Junior win ahead of his Opel team-mate Marijan Griebel. Peugeot UK's Chris Ingram was third.
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