Kick Energy rally driver Steve Perez bounced back from a potential disaster to record a fine fourth place finish on this weekend’s Circuit of Ireland Rally.
Things didn’t get off to a great start as on Thursday evening, the rear silencer on the Ford Focus WRC cracked and the exhaust broke on the shakedown stage which caused the underneath of the car to overheat and set the rear bumper on fire. Steve was unsure of what the problem was and shut off the anti lag to stop any more damage and the team from BTR worked late that night to make sure the car was ready for the afternoon start on Friday.
The opening stage was Titanic, the Super Special in the Harland and Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built 100 years ago this year. The 1.9km stage took place under the shadow of Goliath and Sampson, the two massive cranes in the H&W shipyard.
Steve spun on the stage and was 69th overall going into the first proper closed road stage of the event before setting top five times for the remaining three stages and had a lot of confidence in the car. Unfortunately, the final stage of the evening was cancelled due to a medical emergency for a resident of the stage.
Steve commented: “I was really disappointed that the last stage was cancelled as my pace was improving as the event went on and it was the best I have been in the dark.” He finished leg one in 6th place overall, mixing it with the locals on this very specialised event.
Despite stalling at the start of SS7, Drumhillery 1, and hampered by a faulty handbrake switch, Steve set three, top four times over the opening loop of leg two and he came into first service on Saturday afternoon in fifth overall and 31 seconds behind previous Circuit of Ireland winner Derek McGarrity in his new Mini WRC.
The second loop of the day saw Steve set second quickest time overall on the second run through the Hollow stage, narrowing the gap to McGarrity to just 10 seconds going into the second service halt of the day.
But it was on the following stage that saw him drop two minutes on SS14, when he was pushing hard to catch McGarrity. He braked on the approach to a crest but it was very slippery meaning Steve and Welsh co driver Paul Spooner went through a hedge and ended up in a field. Despite this, Steve was third fastest on SS15 and maintained his fourth place overall at the finish.
Speaking after the event, the triple British Champion from Chesterfield said: “The car was awesome all weekend! I was going really well and enjoying myself on Friday night and was quite disappointed that the last stage was cancelled. On SS14, we were only a few seconds off Derek McGarrity and were pushing and that is when I ended up in the field in typical Irish fashion. I am very happy with everything, especially with this being the first time on tarmac in the Ford Focus this weekend. It was good to be challenging the locals for a place on the podium so it has all been very positive.”
Image attached courtesy of Eymard Brennan: Steve Perez and Paul Spooner in action on the Circuit of Ireland Rally.