NEIL Simpson finished a flying fifth overall on his first attempt at the Circuit of Ireland Rally, after an excellent performance in his ex-factory ŠKODA Fabia S2000.

Co-driven by Claire Mole, the 41-year-old dealer principal from Clitheroe in Lancashire made excellent progress during the Belfast-based event – climbing from ninth after SS1 to fifth after SS12.

Competing against the regular FIA European Rally Championship competitors and many of Ireland’s elite drivers, Simpson – on only his third rally after returning from a 12-year sabbatical – put in another faultless drive.

The Circuit of Ireland was also a great event for the factory Skoda Motorsport team, with Esapekka Lappi and Sepp Wiegand finishing first and second in a pair of Fabia S2000s.

Simpson 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 on the side of caution and not taking any risks, so it’s really encouraging that there is more to come.”