Creighton, 25 from Moira in Co. Down was the star of the field, setting fastest time on an unrivalled nine stages during the event. His pace would see him build a lead of over 40 seconds against his nearest rivals, before his Fiesta bonnet flew up and blocked his view, losing almost a minute in the process.
Starting the final day of the event, Creighton and Belfast co-driver Liam Regan found themselves 19 seconds away from the leader and in a truly fascinating masterclass of top-level driving, Creighton bravely regained the lead of the rally on the penultimate test to win by the slender margin of just 0.6 seconds and secure his place in the history books.
“I really haven’t got the words right now to describe how this feels and what it means to finally win a round of the Junior WRC” he says.
“We have worked so hard to get to this point over the past two seasons and our preparation for the start of this year has been really good. That showed straight out of the box I think and we really gave ourselves a good chance over the opening three legs. OK, that was made more difficult by what happened on Saturday but it made today’s [Sunday] goal easier, it had to be flat out. I’m speechless.”
After honing his skills in the Junior WRC in 2021, Creighton was at the sharp end of the championship but was shy of a win in the hotly contested single make series. His pace in Sweden last year showed promise heading into 2023 but with a new brace of contenders to deal with, Creighton would need to be on top-form.
And the rally started perfectly with a stage win over the Umea Sprint stage on Thursday night to lead by over three seconds, before turning that into a 30 second advantage by the time crews returned to Parc Ferme on Friday night. He extended that further still on Saturday morning but dropped to second with his view through the windscreen compromised.
Sunday offered just three stages to regain control and Creighton admitted that it would be “an uphill struggle” to takeback 19 seconds with such little miles available. But with the bit between his teeth, he emerged from Sundays opener 13 seconds faster than anyone else and repeated that feat on the very next test. A nail-biting final stage saw him do just enough to take his first JWRC win in spectacular fashion.
“After the bonnet did a lap of the windscreen on Saturday afternoon I felt dejected with all the hard work we had put in. But weirdly, that made Sunday’s approach easy, we knew we just had to drive flat out and find the rhythm that we had on Friday. We couldn’t afford any mistakes either, so we had to balance that with not over cooking it and then giving away second place in the process as that was still good points for the championship, especially with the stage wins we had up to that point.”
“That first stage today [Sunday] felt really good and not too crazy actually so it was a bit of a surprise to take back that time but we just kept it consistent over the other two [stages] and did what we needed to. I’m so pleased with our pace this weekend as well, watching onboards back I can see we are a lot more committed that we were last year. I think some of that has come with our Rally2 experience recently, especially at Rallye Monte Carlo. It’s given us a great grounding coming into this weekend.”
“It’s still sinking in but I`m super happy with the result of course and our championship position to start the year. Huge thanks to everyone out there supporting us this weekend and all the messages and especially to the Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy for their valuable input as always. Their work behind the scenes has been fantastic and really boosted the confidence to fight at the top. Let’s carry this momentum forward to the next round in Croatia in April.”
In other news, Waterford driving ace, Craig Breen led the Swedish round of the World Rally Championship aboard his Hyundai i20 Rally 1 for a fair duration, with Co. Cavan navigator, James Fulton calling the notes. Contracted to a part-time season with Hyundai, they finished the event second overall, ahead of the team’s full-time driver, Thierry Neuville. It was an event in stark contrast to last year’s troubles for Breen.
Also showing great pace on the event was Co Tyrone’s Aaron Johnston, who navigates for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT’s factory driver, Takamoto Katsuta. Despite the crew crashing out of the event on the Saturday loop, the team repaired the car allowing a restart on Sunday. Sadly, due to technical issues they were forced to retire from what was a very difficult event for the team.