Not even a broken engine mount could take the shine off Craig Breen’s outstanding debut in the demanding Galway International Rally (16-18 January).
Despite competing amongst more powerful WRC-spec cars, the Kilmurry teenager was able to break into the overall top ten with a string of consistent drives through the stages.
Prior to the opening day, heavy rain had made the road surfaces wet, muddy and very tricky but by setting the 3rd fastest time, Craig and his co-driver Andrew Purcell were quickly able to settle their pre-event nerves. Although Breen admitted, “I was surprised (with the time) because I felt I hadn't pushed hard enough”.
A storm sweeping in from the Atlantic forced the cancellation of SS2 (Special Stage 2) and so the teams and crews proceeded straight to SS3.
Unable to repeat their pace in the opening stage, Craig’s mechanics opted to change the car’s settings in the service area and really go for it in the following stages. Their plan worked. “On SS5 we set our first fastest stage time, taking four seconds out of Alistair Fisher (then heading the Fiesta Sport Trophy-class leaderboard). This motivated me to push even harder,” Craig said. Fisher responded and re-opened the gap, but Breen and Purcell felt that they had more to come and again upped the pace for the following stage. Again, their ‘maximum attack’ approach worked and they took their second, fastest stage time - and 7 vital seconds out of the leader’s time.
Upon their return to the service area, the whole team was now in a bullish mood. However, after hitting a large patch of standing water flat-out in 5th gear, the Keltech Engineering-backed driver was forced to momentarily re-appraise his approach - “We were going for what we call ‘a good cut at it’ and things were going well until we had that ‘moment’. I asked my co-driver, ‘Is that what a ‘moment’ is?’ and I just got a faint reply, ‘Yes’. “
Adopting a more cautious would ultimately pay off, as the 18-year old explains, “We went into the final stage with one thing in mind, bring it home. We settled for second (in class) and finished the day extremely happy with our work”.
A rule change to the Fiesta Sport Trophy regulations meant that Craig and his fellow championship competitors could also contest the full international rally, if they so desired - and he needed little prompting. “The Championship’s new regulations allowed us to compete in the second part of the full international rally. We started Sunday leading our class and were 15th overall. We kept our noses clean all day, didn’t put a wheel wrong, finished 10th overall and won the N3 class. We returned to Eyre Square - where the rally had started from - and were greeted by another massive, cheering crowd. It was one of the most proud moments of my life.”
The next round of the Ford Fiesta Sporting Trophy takes place in April, when it joins the Circuit of Ireland Rally.