Deer hunter Breen on target for fourth Tarmac win in a row
Another win for Craig Breen, his fourth in a row in this year's Irish Tarmac Championship. But it might so easily have been 'Oh Deer' in the Rally of the Lakes.
He and co-driver Paul Nagle - the first Kerryman to win his home round of Ireland's premier series - finished just under 20 seconds ahead of the Ulster duo of Alastair Fisher and Gordon Noble with another Ulster pairing, Callum Devine and Brian Hoy, third in an all R5 Ford Fiesta top three.
But Breen, who also won the Sanremo Rally in Italy to make it five victories in his last five outings, had a massive fright when a deer ran in front of him on Sheen River, the 12th of the 16 stages. It glanced off the front corner of the Fiesta, causing slight damage, but it could have been disastrous for both the crew and the deer.
The shock allowed Fisher to close the gap to just 14 seconds but the ex-Citroen World Championship driver recovered his composure to consolidate a lead he had held from the first stage on Saturday morning.
Again Fisher had to settle for second place, the third time he has been runner-up this season without seriously threatening Breen's overall supremacy.
But outstanding performer of the rally had to be young Devine who was just 12 seconds behind Fisher at the finish. At one point he had closed to within less than a second but damage to a wheel of his Fiesta saw him fall back.
Despite being a comparative newcomer to the R5 division, the former British Junior champion made his mark, not least with fastest time of the weekend over the iconic Moll's Gap stage, earning himself the trophy presented in honour of the late Bertie Fisher, a six-time Lakes winner.
The top three were two minutes clear of the chasing pack, Desi Henry regaining fourth after a puncture on stage 10 dropped his Skoda to sixth. Robert Barrable was fifth after Sam Moffett departed on the final stage, joining his brother Josh, the reigning Tarmac champion, who was an early casualty as were Jonny Greer, Manus Kelly and Daniel Cronin.
William Creighton, another of Ulster's bright young drivers, finished sixth to win the two-wheel-drive category in his little R2 Peugeot.
Meanwhile, Saturday's Craigantlet Hillclimb saw a fierce shoot-out between Wallace Menzies, the British Championship leader, and David Uren.
Both were looking to take advantage of the absence of 2018 champion Trevor Willis, the Craigantlet winner for the past two years, who was late withdrawal when his car was ready after a crash the previous weekend.
It was Uren in his mighty Gould who set the pace during the regular runs, equalling Scott Moran's hill record of 39.12 seconds. And he followed up by winning the first of the Top 12 run offs with a time of 39.43 with Menzies a few hundredths of a second behind in his Gould. But Menzies reversed the positions in the second run off, winning with a time of 39.19 seconds, four-10ths faster than Uren.
In the Northern Ireland Championship category, Chris Houston was the winner in his OMS with ninth fastest time overall. Graham Thompson was second in his GR Turbo with Gerard O'Connell third in his Radical.
In Belgium, Charlie Eastwood battled through rain, hail and SNOW to take second place in the GTE/AM class in the World Endurance Championship round at Spa.
He and team-mates Salih Yoluc and Eunan Hankey had qualified their TF Sport Aston Martin on pole and were chasing victory when the race was red flagged because of the weather.