Eamonn Boland in a Suburu Impreza WRC won the Circuit of Ireland Rally for the first time in his long career on Easter Sunday. But Boland will reflect on the last three afternoon stages, where Gareth MacHale nearly stole the win from him and he admitted afterwards, “I nearly lost it.”

Leading by over 35 seconds after stage 17, Boland suffered problems with his windscreen wipers which cost him time. Gareth MacHale, in his Ford Focus WRC, took 20.9 seconds from him in stage 18 and a further 10.4 seconds in stage 19 to leave just four seconds between them going into the last stage.  

How would Boland respond to MacHale’s late charge? Well, Boland was 0.9 quicker then MacHale,  and gave the Wexford man a popular win and the championship lead.

The lowest entry for many years, with only 26 cars starting, the Circuit of Ireland was based in the Down/Armagh area of Northern Ireland, whilst  conditions over the three days were wet and dry making tyre choice very difficult. And tyre choice was crucial on the four stages on Good Friday afternoon.  

Whilst Eamonn Boland posted the quickest time on stage 1, championship leader Mark Higgins was second, with three-time Circuit winner Derek McGarrity third. The two MacHales, Gareth and Aaron, were fourth and sixth, split by Tim McNulty in fifth. McNulty said he couldn’t get his car set up correctly, and MacHale found the stage tough.

At the first service, Higgins said: “We had a lot of overheating problems and stalled on a hairpin which caused us some time, so we took it very steady indeed. Our plan was to get through that one and then to get to the end of day one and worry about the rest of the rally on day two. Tyre choice was going to be crucial.”

Crucial words indeed, as Higgins won stage three, but at the start of stage four, he broke a diff shaft and the championship leader and Circuit leader was out. This put Eamonn Boland in control with an overnight lead of 5.8 seconds over Derek McGarrity.

Boland extended his lead to 54.5 seconds over McGarrity by first service on Saturday morning, Gareth MacHale winning both opening stages. McGarrity’s quest for a fourth Circuit of Ireland title ended in stage nine when his engine blew and sixth placed Roy White joined him when he suffered starter motor problems.
Garth MacHale took 8.9 seconds from Boland in the final morning stage to leave Boland 44.5 seconds up at midday service. MacHale knew that Boland would be hard to catch.

“Eamonn is driving extremely well this weekend, very collective and quite fast. We went on a harder tyre and it has worked better for us. We tried hard on the last stage as it suited us very well. But we can’t relax too much.”

Boland built up a 31.7 second lead, with neither MacHale nor McNulty able to close the gap by the second last stage. Boland slid into a ditch and lost time to MacHale on the last stage, but recovered to finish with a 26 second overnight lead.

MacHale was unable to deal with Boland’s fast time on the three Sunday morning stages, but that nearly changed in the afternoon, but victory went to Boland. He now leads the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship with 25 points, three ahead of Tim McNulty, with Higgins a further point behind.

Final Results:
1st Eamonn Boland/Damien Morrissey Subaru Impreza, 3h03m21.4s
2nd Gareth MacHale/Craig Parry Ford Focus WRC, 3h03m26s
3rd Tim McNulty/Eugene O'Donnell Subaru Impreza, 3h04m47s
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