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Yates-003Brettex Site Services backed Rhys Yates took on the biggest challenge of his career last weekend as he contested the Circuit of Ireland Rally, recording a confidence boosting 15th overall and sixth in the British Rally Championship on his first ever closed road event.  Despite challenging conditions, the Ford Fiesta R5 pilot battled with competitors in the FIA European Rally Championship on the event and enjoyed a trouble free run to score his first points of the season to sit ninth in the championship standings.

After a promising start to the season opening Mid Wales Stages in March, Yates and co-driver Tom Woodburn couldn’t maximise on their early event pace as they slid off the road in tricky conditions during the second day. This left them with it all to do on round two of the series as they headed across the Irish Sea to contest the all-asphalt 200km blast across the closed public roads of North and Southern Ireland.

Not only would the event see Yates compete against the best competitors in Europe, but the “Circuit” would be his very first closed road event and the aim from the outset was simply to gain points for his British Rally Championship aspirations. Not an easy task of course and the opening loop of stages on Friday (8th April) saw many front running crews leave the road in the tricky weather conditions which encompassed the stages.

The Michelin backed star took it all in his stride however and continued to impress during the opening day. As his experience grew, the times tumbled and by the time the 23 year old lined up to start the final spectator stage of the day, he had settled nicely into the asphalt trim Brettex Fiesta.  To prove it, he set an impressive seventh overall time on the 1.5 mile blast, to end the leg 26th overall from a start number of 49.

The second day saw more changeable weather conditions and Yates would need to battle against Mother Nature as well as the unforgiving nature of the Irish lanes. Hail, rain and sunshine would all be thrown at the crews during the final day and despite Yates’ relative lack of experience of closed road events; he returned a mature drive to cross the ceremonial finish ramp in Belfast with a confidence boosting result.

“It’s really been a steep learning curve here in Ireland but I’m so pleased with how we picked up the pace as the event progressed and started to return some really good stage times” said a jubilant Yates at the finish. “I’d only ever done single venue events on asphalt before so to come to one of the hardest rallies in the world and have a top 15 finish is a job well done I’d say.  There were some really experienced drivers that got caught out this weekend, so to bring the car home without a scratch is encouraging too.  Whilst it’s a delayed start to out British Championship hopes, there is still plenty more to come from me and the car so the next round should be a really close battle for more points.”

The next round of the series takes crews back onto the gravel as Kielder forest plays host to the Carlisle Rally at the end of April. Yates is supported by Brettex Site Services, Michelin, NGK Spark Plugs, MSL Motorsport and Simpson.

Image courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography.

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