Ulster Rally: Breen and BRC stars Edwards and Cave are headline competitors
World Rally driver Craig Breen says he is looking forward to driving "some of the best roads in Ireland" as he bids to secure the Irish Tarmac Championship at the Ulster Rally.
Breen, who was seventh on his WRC return in Finland, will pilot an Hyundai i20 R5 at the event in Newry.
A victory at the rally would guarantee the title for the Waterford driver.
He will be challenged by BRC front-runners Matt Edwards, who won the event last year, and Tom Cave.
Claudy's Callum Devine has impressed in the Irish Tarmac Championship, with local drivers Alastair Fisher and Josh Moffett also possible contenders for overall victory.
Breen has four victories from five rounds in a Ford Fiesta R5, but switches to a Hyundai i20 for the nine-stage event.
"It completes my bingo," joked Breen, "I've been wanting to drive the Hyundai R5 because it's the only one I haven't driven yet, so that's another box ticked."
"It would be massive for me to win the title here," added the 29-year-old on a more serious note, "It might be insignificant to a lot of people on the outside, but I grew up watching Irish rallying.
"I watched my heroes here and that's how I got into the sport, so the Irish Tarmac Championship has always been a massive thing for me.
"The first rally I ever won was here nine years ago, so I've good memories from here too."
Breen entered the Irish Tarmac Championship after failing to secure a full-time WRC drive for 2019, but his impressive results caught the attention of Hyundai, who offered him a drive for the last round in Finland.
"It wasn't as if it was a grand master plan to make it back to the World Championship," says Breen, "I just wanted to go rallying and there is no better place than here."
"For me Irish rallying is where is it as, the roads here are better than anywhere else in the world, so when I knew I had the free time I was going to do it come rain, hail or shine."
Tight at the top
The Welsh duo of Edwards and Cave are level on points heading into the penultimate BRC event of the year, with the pair proving to be the class of the field after taking two wins apiece in the four rallies so far.
Reigning BRC champion Edwards won the Ulster Rally en route to his title success in 2018, and says his battle with Cave "pushes everybody forward".
"I prefer the close competition," admits the M-Sport driver, "I think it keeps our concentration high and I think we can really push on.
"Tom's a great driver and at this stage of the season any mistake can be costly, so we know we've got to be on it."
Cave won the West Cork Rally in only the second time he had competed on tarmac in his Hyundai i20 and feels a similar result could be on the cards in Newry.
"The stages this year haven't been run for a number of years so they are new to everyone," said Cave.
"We're going to have to push really hard to ensure we stay ahead of Matt, that's the only objective and anything else from there is a bonus.
"If we can have a clean run tomorrow then I really think that we can be on the podium."
Ones for the future
Northern Irish youngsters Josh McErlean and William Creighton are locked in a two-way scrap for the Junior BRC title, with former holding an eight-point advantage heading into the event.
Kilrea driver McErlean says he will "start as he means to go on" in the Newry event as he seeks to extend his lead at the top of the standings.
"The pace is going to be hot from the world go," said the 20-year-old, "We're really looking forward to the challenge ahead.
"We've got to keep our eyes on everyone, not just on William. There are plenty of drivers who are wanting to take top spot."
With one round of the championship remaining in the Galloway Hills Rally after Saturday's event, Creighton is aiming for home comfort.
"The Ulster is a great rally, especially this year with the new route" said the Moira native, "It's really compact but there is a good mixture of really fast and technical sections."
"In the car my rivalry with Josh is pretty fierce, but away from it we get on really well so I think that makes the battle more enjoyable.
"We've got to think we can win the title otherwise we wouldn't be here. We know it will be a challenge but we'll give it our best shot."