The 2015 Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally is celebrating a record number of entries in both the International (FIA European Rally Championship) and National events, for what is tipped to be an incredible Easter weekend competition across eight thrilling town centre and rural stages.

The world famous event, which is round three of the FIA ERC, has secured fifty-three crews for the international section – the highest number in the ERC this season – whilst 87 are signed up for the national contest, with a further 13 crews on a reserve list.

Top Irish competitor Craig Breen, currently lying second on the ERC leader board, is the number one seed by virtue of his coveted FIA ranking, which Breen earned by winning the WRC Academy and SWRC titles in the past. The Peugeot Sport-backed driver from Waterford starts the event on the back of his victory on last month’s Rally Liepaja in Latvia.

LOTOS Rally Team driver and holder of the top ERC spot Kajetan Kajetanowicz is a four-time national champion from Poland and is seeded second, with Frenchman Robert Consani listed third. The Cote d’Azur driver who is also third on the ERC 2015 standings will debut his new stunning Citroen DS3 R5 at the Circuit along with co-driver Maxime Vilmot.

Alexey Lukyanuk and Yevhen Chervonenko, who fly the Belarus flag on their Ford Fiesta R5, are seeded fourth. Lukyanuk is regarded as the ERC’s most spectacular driver and is a three-time winner of the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy.

Local Enniskillen driver Alistair Fisher, seeded number five, leads the charge for Northern Ireland-based drivers, whilst Dubliner Robert Barrable, who claimed third place at last year’s Circuit, is number six on the list, followed by Monaghan competitor Sam Moffett.

Twenty nations will be represented at this year’s Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally including Germany, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, United Kingdom and the Czech Republic. The entry also includes two female drivers: glamour model Inessa Tushkanova and ERC Ladies’ Trophy champion Ekaterina Stratieva.

Nineteen of Europe’s best young drivers will chase ERC Junior Championship points on the Circuit of Ireland Rally including local drivers Jon Armstrong from Kesh and South Armagh competitor Calvin Beattie. Round one winner Emil Berkgvist from Sweden drives for the Opel-supported ADAC Junior Team and is highly rated.

Circuit of Ireland Event Director Bobby Willis said it was an incredible entry list and he was delighted to build on the huge success of last year’s event:

“I truly believe the Circuit of Ireland is making huge strides forward and this fantastic entry list really bodes well for the future of the Circuit and indeed for rallying in general. In the past six years the organising committee has worked extremely hard and I feel quite emotional when I say, I believe we have fulfilled our strapline and really have ‘woken up the sleeping giant!’

“As well as our international ERC contenders I’ve been hugely impressed with the national contest entries. Demand was so overwhelming that it was necessary to create a reserve list and I’m urging drivers on the main list to advise us in good time if they are, for whatever reason, unable to compete in the Circuit, so we can offer positions to those crews on the reserve list as soon as possible.”

Last year’s winner of the ‘National’ Circuit, Donegal’s Declan Boyle, takes pole position on the national seeded entry list. The reigning 2014 Irish Tarmac Champion has had a challenging start to the 2015 season following car trouble at the Galway and West Cork rallies.

Five times winner of the Circuit of Ireland Derek McGarrity has won the first two rounds of this year’s NI Championship and the Glengormley rally stalwart will compete in his new Suburu S14. Three times Northern Ireland Champion and veteran star Kenny McKinstry will be taking to the roads on home territory with one of the largest stages taking place close to Banbridge.

Re-uniting as part of the national contest are Scottish hero and Idris Elba’s rally mentor, Jimmy McRae along with his co-driver Ian Grindrod from Lancashire. McRae’s name has featured on the historic Circuit trophy seven times and three of those victories were claimed with Ian Grindrod in 1981, 1982, 1985 and 1987.

Other local heroes in the National competition include fourth seed Paddy McVeigh from Omagh, competing in the Subaru S12B, and Ballymena’s Alan Carmichael in the WRC Mini. Carmichael is a strong contender in the NI Championship. The highest ranking Ford Escort crew is headed by Lisburn’s Wesley Patterson. ‘Ones-to-watch’ include elder statesman Dessie McCartney – the seventy-two-year-old will again compete in the eye-catching Darrian – whilst all-female crew Janice Magee, daughter of former rally competitor Andy Magee, and co-driver Evelyn Warwick hark back to the Audi heyday of the 1980s taking to the roads with their Audi S2 coupe.

The Circuit of Ireland Rally takes place from Thursday 2nd April until Saturday 4th April 2015 and will be the third of ten rounds in the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship. The 2015 Circuit of Ireland will also be counting rounds of the 2015 Irish Tarmac Championship and the Northern Ireland Rally Championship.

Fans will have several opportunities to see the rally action over Easter weekend. The Qualifying Stage of the Rally will be based at Ballycultra Village, at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum on Thursday 2 April, followed by a ceremonial start at Belfast City Hall that evening.

Spectator Stages will take place in Newtownards on Friday 3 April and Lisburn on Saturday 4 April. Downpatrick will be a regroup area on Friday afternoon, while on Saturday Banbridge and Hillsborough Castle will play host to teams regrouping.

The rally will finish back in Belfast on the evening of Saturday April 4 and the winner will be crowned at Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, the site of the Rally Village, HQ and Service Park, which will welcome competitors and team personnel over four days from Wednesday 1 April.

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