Breen battles back but Boyle grabs rally lead
Craig Breen clawed his way into contention at the end of the first leg of the three-day Joule Donegal International Rally - but he wasn't happy.
Already winner of the first four rounds of this year's Irish Tarmac Championship, the former Citroen factory driver had edged into second place behind Declan Boyle with Sam Moffett third, the three of them covered by little more than two seconds.
Breen's victories all came in championship-eligible R5 cars, but for Donegal he felt he needed more power and opted to follow the lead of other leading contenders, including Boyle and Moffett, by switching a WRC Ford Fiesta, even through it meant he was forfeiting points in his title chase.
But midway through yesterday's first six stages he wasn't so sure. Plagued by brake issues and down in sixth place after the first of them, Breen gradually eased his way towards the front but was sure he would have been faster in his R5 Fiesta.
Indeed, it was the R5 Fiesta of Callum Devine which led initially, the former British junior champion stunning the field by going seven seconds faster than anyone on the first stage.
And the R5 cars of Alastair Fisher and Josh Moffett were second and third, with 2014's winner Boyle leading the WRC brigade in fourth.
However, as the day warmed up the extra power of the WRC cars began to tell, and by the first service break Boyle had nosed in front, albeit by less than a second from Breen. Devine had slipped to third.
Into the afternoon and the rally developed into a see-saw battle at the front, Boyle and Breen trading seconds and swapping places through stages four and five, with Moffett also chipping in until just six-10ths of a second covered the top three places.
The final stage of the day saw local man Boyle, the reigning Irish national champion, go quickest again to squeeze ahead of Breen by nine-10ths of a second, with Moffett a further half second behind as the cars returned to Letterkenny last night.
Acknowledging his struggles, Breen said: "I just couldn't get on top of the car. I had a few issues with the brakes and the tyres and I tried to make adjustments as the day went on. But the pace was fierce and to be less than a second behind Declan is not so bad with two days still to go."
Devine was fourth, 10 seconds ahead of the WRC Subaru of Garry Jennings and the clear leader of the R5 category. He was some 40 seconds in front of Tarmac champion Josh Moffett, who had made a late decision to switch from his Fiesta to a Hyundai i20.
Fisher, second behind Breen in the Tarmac standings, saw his hopes to closing the points gap severely hit when his Fiesta suffered a puncture, costing close to a minute.
He was back in 11th place behind Manus Kelly, Donegal winner for the past three years, Cathan McCourt, Meirion Evans and Seamus Leonard.
The first day casualties includes Desi Henry and YouTube superstar Ken Block, who both crashed out on the third stage.