Craig Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle escaped unhurt after a spectacular crash in the closing moments of the Rally of Finland.
On his return to the World Championship after the tragic accident in Sicily in early June in which his co-driver Gareth Roberts was killed, Breen was leading the Super 2000 category as well as holding 11th place overall in his Ford Fiesta with only two runs over the rally’s signature stage, the 33-kilometre switchback Ouninpohja, remaining.
In a dramatic finale, Breen’s Fiesta ran wide on a left-hand corner, dropped a wheel off the road and flipped over, rolling sideways and then end-over-end.
“I’m very disappointed to have crashed out so close to the end, but the most important thing is that Paul and I are ok,” said the 23-year-old WRC academy champion from Waterford.
“It’s sad, but I want to thank all the people who have given me the courage to get here. I never thought I’d be in a rally car again, let alone competing at the front.”
There was disappointment, too, for Alastair Fisher who dropped to third in the WRC Academy series after his early retirement.
The rally was won overall by Sebastien Loeb while Petter Solberg and his Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson, also in a Ford, were fourth.
Meanwhile, Derek McGeehan led from start to finish in his WRC Mini to win the Dogleap Rally.