This is the high-flying Craig Breen, testing his Peugeot 208 T16 today for the next round of the FIA European Rally Championship – the Circuit of Ireland.
The test took place at a secret location in south Kilkenny, just north of the 24-year old Peugeot Rally Academy driver’s home in Waterford.
Rain made the roads extremely slippery, and as you can see from this fantastic picture taken by top Irish photographer Michael Chester, the 208 T16 wasn’t hanging about!
The leader of the FIA European Rally Championship, Kajetan Kajetanowicz, has been testing hard for this week’s Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally.
The four-time Polish rally champion has never rallied in Ireland before, and has been testing his LOTOS Rally Team Fiesta R5 on twisty Tarmac roads near Ustron – which he hopes has a similar characteristic to the narrow lanes of Northern Ireland. A second day of testing is planned in Co. Kilkenny in Ireland, in order to fine-tune the set-up work done in the Polish mountain region.
And he's produced a fantastic video from the first test, which you can see here.
The Circuit of Ireland will be Kajetanowicz’s only second Tarmac event in six months, after he won the Barborka Rally in his homeland.
“Already before heading to Ireland, during our tests in Poland, all the LOTOS Rally Team focus has been on the optimum preparation of ourselves and our Fiesta to compete in Circuit of Ireland Rally,” said Kajetanowicz.
“Six months have passed since Tour de Corse, the previous Tarmac round of European Rally Championship, so I miss driving on asphalt. I know that we have to stay extremely focused and prepare ourselves well before the fight on very complicated stages around Belfast. From what I have heard, you cannot imagine a more beautiful and demanding rally for the driver. The stages are narrow, extremely fast and bumpy, full of jumps – so we will spend a lot of time in the air! These jumps mean that the rally reality for the crew changes a lot. This rally is also a huge challenge for our Fiesta R5. On long straights the power of the cars is extremely important and the bumpy surface is a big test for the suspension.
“We will do our best to extract everything from our car and use our strengths to build up confidence on stages which are completely new to us. We will fight because I love rallies and I have additional motivation, as my relatives, and a lot of Polish people, live in the United Kingdom."
A record-breaking field of 19 FIA European Junior Rally Championship drivers will appear on this week's Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally - so we thought we'd ask them about their hopes and aims.
Mattias Adielsson (Sweden) Born: 11 May 1991 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: Christoffer Bäck (Sweden)
“We are really looking forward to the Circuit of Ireland and are very happy that our sponsors make it possible for us to be there. We are ready to make a good rally, but the most important thing is to collect experience and make a development on Tarmac. We have only been in two real Tarmac events, and the last time we won in the Danish championship final in November. I really enjoy asphalt because of my early start in karting and I have good confidence on this surface. There will be a lot of fast Tarmac drivers in Ireland, so we will try to be on the pace from the beginning, but without pushing too much. We will see how things go during the rally, but we always try our best. We are really looking forward to this event and to be in ERC Juniors again!”
Jon Armstrong (United Kingdom) Born: 11 December 1994 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: Noel O’Sullivan (Ireland)
“I have some experience with the Peugeot now and I know set-up will be key for this event. I've never competed on the Circuit of Ireland before and I have no knowledge of the stages used because I live quite far away. As long as me and Noel can make the best pace notes possible, it will give us the confidence to have a really good push. I have changed my pace note system and it is working very well so far this year. I have found that I understand the system better than my old one and have a lot more confidence now. I am always learning and getting better as I still have very little experience of international events.”
Fergus Barlow (United Kingdom) Born: 20 December 1992 Car: Ford Fiesta R2 Co-driver: Alistair MacCrone (United Kingdom)
“The Circuit of Ireland will be my first international rally, my first time in the ERC and, except for a small single-venue event, my first time in Ireland, so it’s very much in at the deep end. After finishing first in class and seventh overall on the Mull Rally last year, I spent four months in the Indian Ocean working as a merchant seaman and thinking about my next rally adventure – and this is it!”
Calvin Beattie (United Kingdom) Born: 15 November 1994 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver Darragh Mullen (Ireland)
“Firstly I'd like to say that the Circuit of Ireland, in my opinion, is probably one of the best rallies in the UK with amazing stages. In 2012 I entered the Circuit when it was a round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in a Ford Fiesta ST as my first official road closed rally. We finished the event as the only finisher in the class, and it is still great to have an IRC class win on my CV. Last year I entered the Circuit, but didn’t however register for ERC Junior. Having upgraded to a Fiesta R2 before the Circuit, it was my first event in the car. After day one we were lying third in RC4, but on the first stage on Saturday morning, less than 500 metres from the finish, the fuel pump stopped and we lost around five minutes before the car fired up again. It was very disheartening but that's the joys of rallying! I am really looking forward to this year’s Circuit on Easter weekend, to challenge some of the finest drivers in Europe.”
Emil Bergkvist (Sweden) Born: 17 June 1994 Car: Opel Adam R2 Co-driver: Joakim Sjöberg (Sweden)
“I understand expectations of some people might have risen after our victory in Latvia. Mine haven’t. I know I still have to learn a lot, especially on Tarmac. So the Circuit of Ireland Rally will be another new and big challenge as the competition in the FIA ERC Junior is so incredibly high. On the other hand we have proved that the Opel Adam R2, as well as the whole team, have the potential of winning rallies. That gives me a great feeling before heading to beautiful Ireland. The narrow but quick stages there will be a big fun to drive!”
Gino Bux (Belgium) Born: 11 August 1990 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: Eric Borguet (Belgium)
“We had a good run on the recent Spa Rally, which was my first Tarmac event since the Tour de Corse last November. We won the FWD category, RC4, Junior and finished fifth overall behind four R5 cars, so we are very happy with that. Now, we are fully focused on the great Circuit of Ireland. I started my rallying career there last year, and it will be the first rally I'll do for a second time in my life. I have done a little more than ten rallies until now, so my experience is still limited but it's growing everyday. I'm sure that the experience of last year will pay for this event and I'm really excited to be back in Belfast and drive again on those awesome roads. The level of the ERC Junior is really impressive this year, and it will be great to see where we are on Tarmac compared to the other drivers. Our aim is to be as fast as possible and being in the front group, even if it's hard to have a precise goal about our final position. We'll do our best and do everything possible to make Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg, RACB National Team and DG Sport Competition proud of us.”
Kevin Eves (Ireland) Born: 19 July 1991 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: Chris Melly (Ireland)
“Our aim at the Circuit of Ireland is to gain experience at a higher level of our sport. We believe we have the speed needed to achieve a good result. We have had good results this year in our local events and plan to up the anti to be competitive to the ERC Juniors. We are hoping to contest the remaining rounds of the championship but are still working hard on the budget. We will just have to take it as each event comes.”
Diogo Gago (Portugal) Born: 7 August 1991 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: Jorge Carvahlo (Portugal)
“This will be a completely new rally for us and we need to learn the tricks of such a specific rally. This must be a fast process and we need to gain confidence with the Peugeot 208. From what we see it will not be an easy step and everything will be new to us. We want to be competitive and we are working to achieve a good result in the championship and add some more points to the ones we get from Rally Liepāja. We know that we will face strong competition, but for this kind of Tarmac rally, with fast and narrow stages, with lots of jumps and bumps, we will be once again 100 per cent focused in our targets.”
Fergus Greensmith (United Kingdom) Born: 26 December 1996 Car: Ford Fiesta R2 Co-driver: Elliott Edmonson (United Kingdom)
“The Circuit of Ireland is an event that I've always wanted to do. There are plenty of jumps and it's very fast, so good pace notes will be crucial. I've had very little experience of the Circuit of Ireland, and I've only completed a single test day. It'll be a challenge but I'm looking forward to it."
Marijan Griebel (Germany) Born: 18 May 1989 Car: Opel Adam R2 Co-driver: Stefan Clemens (Germany)
“Of course I have watched several on-board videos as well as the past TV coverage on Eurosport to get an impression of the characteristics of the Circuit of Ireland Rally, which include many jumps and narrow roads. The stages will be both challenging and unique but surely nice to drive. No doubt the competition will be extremely tough again. But as I prefer Tarmac surface, I hope Stefan and I will be among the teams to count with in Ireland!”
Vasily Gryazin (Russia) Born: 11 November 1993 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: Dmitry Lebedik (Russia)
“Everyone wants to win, that’s true, but the Circuit of Ireland Rally is totally new for us. From what I’ve discovered, the Irish stages are very special in surface and road character. It is a great advantage to know these roads and to have experience driving the Irish Tarmac even a single time. However, we've never been there competing and our way is to test the car and skills on similar type roads and then good improvisation during the race. The 208 R2 fits well with Tarmac roads and our team has the possibility to get a good basic set-up for our car, before we fine tune it. We will see and try our best! I'd really like to show some good results in Ireland. I have watched many videos from there, and the roads seem very interesting. I can't wait!”
Chris Ingram (United Kingdom) Born: 7 July 1994 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: Gabin Moreau (FRA)
“Twenty of Europe’s best young drivers will be in Northern Ireland to compete, so it is going to be a brilliant challenge. I've led the rally on both occasions I’ve competed, but I hope to control it this time and finish with a top result. We will fight, however the championship is more important to me. It’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. There are some very fast drivers to compete against.”
Kristóf Klausz (Hungary) Born: 1 June 1996 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver Balázs Kecskeméti (HUN)
“This is one of the most excellent series, so we decided to continue the season among the ERC Juniors. From the Circuit of Ireland Rally, we will start ever competition with a Peugeot 208 R2 car. The aim is to learn and collect some good experiences – and moreover, I will try to beat the other ERC Junior drivers!”
Łukasz Pieniążek (Poland)Born: 19 September 1990 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: Jakub Gerber (Poland)
“The second round of ERC Junior, the Circuit of Ireland, is a new challenge for me and a trip into the unknown. However, I admit that asphalt is closer to me than the loose surface. Prior to the start we plan intensive preparation, during which we want to drive the greatest number of kilometres. The mood is positive. The aim is of course to collect experience. I hope that during the rally we will get closer to the rivals and all this time we will avoid car failures.”
Steve Røkland (Norway) Born: 14 June 1992 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: James Aldridge (United Kingdom)
“I really hope for a good rally in Ireland, but I have not so much experience on Tarmac, as we don’t drive rallies on Tarmac in Norway. I have only done four Tarmac rallies in my career so far, and they include two Ulster rallies in Ireland, so I have at least some experience from the bumpy and fast Irish roads from my two years in the British rally championship. My aim in Ireland would be the podium again, to score some good points for the championship. Unfortunately there is no Tarmac test for me before Ireland, but we will do the best out of it!”
Ralfs Sirmacis (Latvia) Born: 29 May 1994 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: Artūrs Šimins (Latvia)
“I have no experience on Irish roads, but I have studied the on-boards of several drivers, as well as videos shot from spectators. It seems that the roads are very rough in places, with several jumps, but, at the same time, very speedy. I believe that drivers who have participated in several races on asphalt, or exactly in Ireland, will have an advantage, because it is the only way of realising what adjustments and settings must be made. I will rely on my experience, however humble it may be, and my professional mechanics. I will have to start cautiously, in order not to make serious errors and, after the first day, make any adjustments to the car and my driving style, so I can reach the best possible result.”
Julius Tannert (Germany) Born: 12 May 1990 Car: Opel Adam R2 Co-driver: Jennifer Thielen (Luxembourg)
“I'm really looking forward to the Circuit of Ireland. This will be my first time in Northern Ireland and I am sure that the stages will be a big challenge for me and Jennifer. I'm trying to prepare myself the best possible way and I will completed a test before the rally.”
Florin Tincescu (Romania) Born: 8 April 1993 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: Sergiu Itu (Romania)
“Our first season in ERC Junior was a learning year. Unfortunately we had also a lot of technical issues with the Citroën C2 R2 Max, so we decided to change to a Peugeot 208 R2. We’ve already started in some national events with this car and I like it very much. We will start also in the first round of the Romanian rally championship as part of our preparations for the 2015 ERC Junior season. It will be my first time in Ireland, so we will have a cautious approach because everything is new for me in this season – the car, the co-driver and Circuit of Ireland Rally.”
Aleks Zawada (Poland) Born: 31 March 1992 Car: Peugeot 208 R2 Co-driver: Cathy Derousseaux (Poland)
“I was battling for a podium position on the Circuit of Ireland last year, until two punctures on the final day dropped us to fifth. That was my first rally in Ireland and I really enjoyed it – it’s an exciting event, with lots of jumps and fast sections, so I’m looking forward to going back. Hopefully, this time with the bit of experience we have I won’t make any mistakes and have a really good run throughout. It will be the first rally on asphalt for me in the Opel Adam R2; I think it will be a good car on Tarmac, so I’m really looking forward to attacking the lanes again.”