Greer and Henry leading pack in pursuit of Breen
It was business as usual for Craig Breen as he led the way at the end of the first leg of the Easter Stages Rally last night.
Already winner of the first two rounds of the Irish Tarmac Championship and straight from a stunning final-stage victory in Italy's Sanremo Rally, the Citroen exiled duo of Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle edged in front in their R5 Ford Fiesta through yesterday's six Co Antrim tests to establish a narrow lead heading into the second leg of an event which is again replacing the traditional Easter Circuit of Ireland.
What wasn't in the script was the sight of a pair of Ulster drivers, Jonny Greer and Desi Henry, leading the chasing pack.
Greer is a former Northern Ireland champion and winner of last year's Down Rally but has never won a round of the Tarmac series.
Henry, too, has had his successes, including winning the Maiden City round of the NI Championship two weeks ago, but he's had a difficult start to Ireland's premier Championship this season.
But they kept on Breen's heels, the Fiesta of Greer and his Scottish co-driver Kirsty Riddick just 12 seconds adrift with the Skoda Fabia of Henry and Liam Moynihan a further five seconds back.
Initially it had been last year's Easter winner Josh Moffett who had led the challenge to Breen, the reigning Tarmac champion setting the fastest time on the opening Buckna stage near Ballymena.
But as he has done in the previous rounds in Galway and West Cork, Breen gradually picked up the pace to move ahead, reeling off five successive fastest times.
And Moffett was just a handful of seconds behind when his Fiesta suddenly cut out as he started stage five at Tardree. It took around 90 seconds to get it to fire up again and he went plunging down the leaderboard to 21st.
By the overnight halt he was back up to 16th but more than a minute and a half off the leader.
Behind Henry, the other Moffett, brother Sam, was in fourth and holding off the Fiestas of two more Ulster drivers, former British Junior champion Callum Devine and Alastair Fisher, who was Breen's closest challenger in the first two Tarmac rounds.
The Hyundais of young Welshman Meirion Evans and triple Donegal International winner Manus Kelly held seventh and eighth ahead of the WRC Fiesta of NI champion Derek McGarrity.
Declan Boyle, the 2018 Irish national champion, was the first big casualty of the rally, crashing his Fiesta just 300 yards into the first stage.
Missing from the starting list was record-equalling Tarmac champion Eugene Donnelly, who was due to debut the new Proton Iriz.
It arrived on Wednesday but testing didn't go as planned due to what was said to be a software issue with the engine management system and it was withdrawn.