Twice a Champ: Craig Breen

Irish Rally driver Craig Breen clinched the SWRC (Super 2000 World Rally Championship) in heroic style this past weekend on the final day of WRC RallyRACC-Rally de Espana. In doing so, Breen secures consecutive World Rally titles after winning the inaugural FIA WRC Academy Championship twelve months ago. The twenty-two year old suffered the severest blow of his career in June when his best friend and former co-driver, Gareth Roberts, was killed in an accident on IRC’s Rally, Targa Florio.

The Waterford driver made a comeback on WRC Rally Finland in August and on the closing three SWRC rounds (Wales Rally GG, Rally de France-Alsace and this weekend’s Spanish round) of the season to stamp his authority on the Championship claiming a hat trick of wins. This weekend he also completed Rally de Espana in sixth overall, equalling Sebastien Ogier’s record of the highest overall finish of an S2000 car in the 2012 World Rally Championship.

After taking a commanding advantage on Day One that saw the Ford driver hold an overnight lead of 03min 41sec, Breen adopted a marking tactic over Saturday and Sunday’s stages. Controlling from the front, the Irish driver kept his arch rival Swede P-G Andersson at arm’s length covering every attack while preserving his car all the way through to a flourishing finish. At the conclusion of the eighteenth and final stage, a euphoric Breen was overcome with joy for winning the title, but also reflected on the huge loss during the summer: “Incredible, I can’t believe it, you know I’ve had questions about if I’m making the correct decision. But for reasons I can’t explain that wanted me to get back in a rally car immediately, and I think this confirms it all. You know, we were meant to be here, we were meant to win this title and I’m so happy to have pulled it off.”

The final round in the 2012 World Rally Championship was played out around the holiday resort of Salou, on Spain’s Costa Brava. The season ending event held an extra twist being the only dual surface rally of gravel (Day One) and asphalt (Days Two & Three) as the Super 2000 World Rally Championship went all the way to the wire.

The finale to the SWRC category had a three way battle forecast between Championship leader, Craig Breen (93 points), P-G Andersson (91 points) and Yazeed Al Rajhi (73 points) from Saudi Arabia.

Al Rajhi’s third position, having a 20-point deficit to overcome, really saw the showdown of Ford driver Breen and Proton ace Andersson, the two most successful drivers in the competition to date. Thirty-two year old Andersson is a seasoned campaigner and is a two-time former winner of the Junior World Rally Championship and the lead driver for Proton Motorsport.

The opening day of Rally de Espana was based on gravel with six stages, but the predominant feature being rain had made the surface conditions treacherous. Initially, Andersson set the pace opening a gap of 16sec over Breen by the end of SS2. The highlight of the first day in Salou was the 44kms of the Terra Alta special stage. The first major incident of the weekend happened early on the first run when Andersson’s Proton broke a driveshaft. By the end of the stage the Swede’s lead had vanished as Breen turned a 16sec deficit into a 01minute 09sec lead.

In the afternoon as the action resumed with SS4 Andersson cut Craig’s lead to 55sec, but again the rerun of Terra Alta would define the rally. Early in the test the Proton driver hit a bank damaging his steering. Breen on the other hand had a perfect drive and by the end of day held an advantage of 03m 41.5sec.

On Friday evening Breen said: “Today was just incredibly difficult, the hardest conditions I’ve ever driven in, so I’m very relieved to be here. The conditions were changing at every corner and it’s impossible to try and push in those kind of conditions.”

WRC Rally de Espana is the only dual surface event within the World Rally Championship and for Day Two the event reverted to tarmac. With a commanding lead, Breen adopted a covering approach to each of the day’s six stages, keeping one eye on the road ahead and the other on Andersson’s stage times. A trouble-free run helped the former WRC Academy Champion to a controlled drive and by Saturday evening his lead was 03min 19sec.

At the end of day Breen said: “I’ve been coasting around and if I could go any slower I would. Everything has gone according to plan today and although it’s been hairy out there on the stages we’ve been taking things very carefully. There’s quite a bit of pressure not to make a mistake and every little noise makes me panic that there might be something wrong. Now I just need to keep my fingers crossed we can get to the finish with no problems.”

The final day to complete eighteen-stage rally rounded off with another six stages. Breen resumed his ultra-cautious drive over the morning loop by dropping 37sec as he continued his precautionary surge to the finish line. Reaching midday service his lead stood at 02min 42sec, but with only 46km the end was in sight.

Over those closing three stages, Andersson continued to narrow the gap as Breen slowed to all but a crawl. But the Irish driver’s happiness and relief bubbled to the surface as he reached the end of the final stage when he knew he had clinched the Championship: “I really couldn’t have done this without everybody’s support and good wishes so I’d like to take this moment to thank each and everyone of you. It’s the perfect attribute to Gareth too and I am so happy to have won this title for him.”