The Irish pairing of Craig Breen and Paul Nagle lived up to their favourites billing with a resounding victory on the Today’s Ulster Rally – a result that saw them confirmed as Irish Tarmac champions. Quickest times on five of the event’s nine stages in a Hyundai i20 were the building blocks needed to make it win number five of an unforgettable campaign, and put the title out of the reach of their rivals with one round of the Championship remaining.
Breen persevered with early set-up issues that affected the handling of his car to cross the finish ramp with 20.5 seconds in hand over top British Rally Championship finishers Matt Edwards and Patrick Walsh. “I grew up watching the Irish Tarmac Championship as a kid,” said a champagne soaked Breen, “and had you told me at the age of five that one day I would be an Irish Tarmac Champion I would never have believed you. It is a great feeling!”
Last year’s Ulster Rally winner Edwards was content with second place. Maximum points coupled with a non-finish for title rival Tom Cave, who crashed on the penultimate stage while holding third place, inches him closer to consecutive British Championship crowns. “It has taken a bit of pressure off us,” said the Ford Fiesta R5 pilot. “It was unfortunate what happened to Tom, but we look forward to another fight with him in Scotland next month.”
The final podium spot went to County Londonderry’s Callum Devine. Like Breen, the Ford Fiesta R5 driver was hampered by handling issues early in the event and an iffy fuel pump, but strong times over the closing miles saw him equal his best result of 2019. Welshman Meirion Evans (Skoda Fabia R5) and Alastair Fisher (Ford Fiesta R5) completed the top five.
Also decided on the Today’s Ulster Rally was the Junior British Rally Championship title. Knowing that a win would suffice, Josh McErlean stormed through the third and final loop of three stages to overhaul James Williams at the wheel of his Peugeot 208 R2. For his efforts, as part of the Peugeot UK and TOTAL prize fund the 20-year-old earned himself £2,500 in money. “It’s hard to believe and it will take time to sink in,” he admitted. “I can’t put it into words.” Claudy’s Jordan Hone (Opel Adam R2) was the third JBRC finisher home.
There were also wins for Andy Davies and Michael Gilbey in the Production Class, Damian Toner in the Modified Section and Stanley Orr who was the leading light in the Historic battle at the wheel of his Ford Escort Mk1. “I like the Ulster but it hasn’t liked me!” said Orr of previous struggles. “This year we have had a bit of luck for a change.”
Meanwhile, on only their second appearance in a R5 car, Stuart Biggerstaff and Anthony Nestor guided their Ford Fiesta to success in the National Rally despite a late engine scare.