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Esapekka Lappi has enjoyed an Easter Good Friday to remember with a stunning performance on leg one of the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally, which has put him on course for win number two in this year’s all-action FIA European Rally Championship.
 

Finn Lappi, in a ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000, was fastest on seven of today’s sun-baked 10 stages to build up a lead of 12.6s over Craig Breen at the overnight halt in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.
 
However, with the longest day of the rally still to come, there promises to be some serious competition ahead on Saturday’s eight tests between the two Michelin-shod runners. Breen is not giving up on winning his home round of the ERC in Peugeot’s new-generation 208T16, while Lappi is anxious to finish ahead of his rival in order to boost his title bid.
 
“It was almost a perfect day,” said the 23-year-old Lappi. “We just lost three stages and I don’t know why I lost the time to be honest. Even if Craig is going faster tomorrow we are second because there is a big gap to the others and I said before the start I want to finish on the podium and I won’t be doing any stupid mistakes and risking everything. It’s exciting for the championship but maybe I have to beat him because he is in front of me [in the title battle].”
 
Prior to the start, Lappi feared that he would struggle to make an impact on the ERC qualifier due to a lack of confidence on the challenging Tarmac stages. But he has excelled throughout the day and suggested there is even more speed to come from him and co-driver Janne Ferm.
 
Breen ended Lappi’s run of stage wins with the quickest time on stage eight. However, he twice lost time smashing the rear windscreen of his Peugeot on landing one of the many jumps that litter the high-speed Hamiltons Folly test. He also ripped the rear bumper from his car swiping a bank following a huge moment while driving flat out in fifth gear on the second Bucks Head stage.
 
“I can’t say I’m happy to be second but when Esapekka is putting in the times he’s doing you have to look at the bigger picture,” said Breen, the current European championship leader. “The gap is not so big and we were quite fast on the last three stages today, the most enjoyable day of driving in my life because the stages are out of this world. Tomorrow will be an interesting fight and I’m sure it will be a case of the bravest man will win.”
 
Kevin Abbring was in a close battle with Breen for second when a broken radiator forced him to retire his 208T16 for the second rally in a row. However, the Dutchman was still able to demonstrate his huge potential. Abbring’s misfortune handed the final spot on the provisional podium to Irish Ford Fiesta R5 driver Robert Barrable, who starts day two 8.8s ahead of Germany’s Sepp Wiegand in the second factory Fabia. Sam Moffett had been closer to the fight for third only to lose time with an overshoot on the day-closing Newtownards street stage, which attracted an estimated 25,000 fans. He’s 16.5s adrift of Wiegand with Frenchman Robert Consani sixth on his fourth rally in a four-wheel-drive car.
 
Neil Simpson is seventh, ERC 2WD leader Daniel McKenna eighth, Josh Moffett ninth and the top ERC Production Car Cup runner with ERC Junior pacesetter Chris Ingram 10th.

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