Colne’s Neil Simpson finished a flying fifth overall on his first attempt at the Discover Northern Ireland Circuit of Ireland Rally, after an excellent performance in his ex-factory Simpsons ŠKODA Fabia S2000.
Co-driven by Claire Mole, the 41-year old dealer principal 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 after a gruelling 143.17 miles (230.42kms) of high-speed competition.
The Circuit of Ireland was also a great event for the factory ŠKODA Motorsport team, with Esapekka Lappi and Sepp Wiegand finishing 1st and 2nd in a pair of Fabia S2000s.
Neil 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.
“I’m 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. I’ve had smaller landings before in my career and the car I’ve been driving has fallen to bits around me, 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. It really is a remarkable piece of kit.
“I was also overwhelmed by the help and advice ŠKODA Motorsport gave us. The team was pretty busy running the two factory Fabia S2000s and finishing first and second, but were also incredibly supportive towards us and nothing was too much trouble. It really made for an unforgettable Circuit of Ireland.”