Celebrating its 85th year and with perhaps the best entry to date thanks to the inclusion of three major championships, European, British and Irish Tarmac the 2016 Circuit of Ireland burst into life.
The action got underway at the 13 mile long Cairncastle stage with Welsh driver Elyfn Evans topping the time sheet and heading a trio of Irish drivers with World Rally star and last year’s winner Craig Breen second followed by Alastair Fisher and Desi Henry.
First of the European drivers in fifth place Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Josh Moffett completed the top half dozen.
Over the next stage Knockboy 1 Evans at the wheel of a Fiesta R5 increased his lead over Breen’s Citroen DS3 R5 to 12 seconds while Kajetanowicz at the wheel of a Fiesta R5 moved ahead of Fisher’s similar car who held fourth followed by Henry in a Skoda Fabia R5 and Moffett’s Fiesta R5.
Kajetanowicz had changed the set up of his car after the opening stage while Breen reported that he had struggled with the amount of mud on the stage.
However for Evans his rally was over, an overheating engine put paid to a great drive.
The next challenge was the Glens, 19 miles of high speed action and the longest on day one and Kajetanowicz really wound up his Ford the Polish ace to set the second best time but it was Breen who demolished the opposition with a time 24 seconds ahead of the second placed driver and into the overall lead.
Towards the end of the stage the Breen Citroen made contact with a bank but to his relief no serious damage.
Breen headed to Newtownards and a ‘Mickey Mouse’ round the streets stage with a 36 second advantage and one thing in his mind to repeat his win of last year in what is one of his favourite events..
Through the streets of the County Down town it was Fisher from Kajetanowicz with Breen back in fifth, but with an overall lead of 25 seconds.
Amongst the casualties on day one, Triple British Champion and Irish Championship points leader Keith Cronin was expected to be among the contenders but was sidelined early in the opening stage by an overheating engine.
On Saturday eight stages with the first challenge Bucks Head 1 west of Downpatrick and stages 8 and 12 will over the famous Hamilton’s Folly with the finish at Queens University in what has been a great event so far.