Clitheroe driver Neil Simpson, co-driven by Whitsome’s Claire Mole, finished a flying fifth overall on their first attempt at the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally.
This was an excellent performance in the ex-factory Simpsons ŠKODA Fabia S2000 making it three Fabia S2000s in the top five after ŠKODA Motorsport drivers Esapekka Lappi and Sepp Wiegand finished first and second.
Neil and Claire made excellent progress during the Belfast-based event – climbing from ninth after SS1 to fifth after SS12, as the rally unfolded over the ultra-fast all-asphalt closed country lanes.
Competing against the regular FIA European Rally Championship competitors and many of Ireland’s elite drivers, Neil – on only his third rally after returning from a 12 year sabbatical – also had to master some of the notoriously big jumps, as the Easter rally played out at a fast and furious pace.
Neil put in another faultless drive in his Pirelli-shod Fabia S2000 to complete the 18th and final stage in a magnificent fifth position overall – replaying his team’s hard work with a wonderful result.
Claire said: “I would not have believed it if someone had said we’d finish fifth overall on a round of the European Rally Championship in only our third rally back – everyone in the team is absolutely delighted.
“Neil is still driving well on the side of caution and not taking any risks, so it’s really encouraging that there is so much more to come.
“The Circuit of Ireland was a very fast and tough event. There were some huge jumps, and we had a very big landing on Hamilton’s Folly but the Fabia S2000 just took it in its stride and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. The marks halfway up the front bumper showed that we’d landed hard on the nose of the car, but the Fabia didn’t flinch.”
Last month the duo were seventh overall in Le Touquet Rallye France and their next event is the Jim Clark followed by Ypres and the Goodwood Festival of Speed.