Belfast Telegraph

Breen's Monte hopes are boosted by Hirvonen's expert backing

By Sammy Hamill

Mikko Hirvonen has been a World Championship rally winner and has just endured the rigours of the three weeks in the mountains and deserts of South America in the Dakar Rally.

But no sooner had he washed off the dust and sweat at the weekend than he was on a plane out of Argentina bound for Europe and his role as 'ouvreur' or opener for Craig Breen on the Monte Carlo Rally.

The Finn, who won the Monte when it was a round of the old Intercontinental Rally Challenge in 2010, is a member of Breen's ice note crew and will drive the route ahead of the Circuit of Ireland winner, feeding back information on road conditions.

Officially known as safety crews, the ice note teams have a vital role to play on a rally like Monte Carlo where road surfaces constantly change depending on the weather.

Hirvonen, along with navigator Andy Hayes from back home in Ireland, will be a huge help to Breen who is competing on the Monte for only the third time and will be on board one of the older DS3 Citroens while team-mates Kris Meeke and Stephane Lefebvre debut the all-new C3s.

"Having Mikko supporting us is a real bonus," said Breen. "He has so much experience of this rally and the information he and Andy provide can be crucial."

Meeke will have his tried and trusted team of former Northern Ireland junior champion Stephen Whitford and navigator Derek Brannigan working for him and co-driver Paul Nagle.

Whitford and Brannigan will search out new dangers.

All the leading crews will be backed up by experienced drivers - among them World champion Sebastien Ogier by Simon Jean-Joseph, Thierry Neuville by Bruno Thiry, Jari-Matti Latvala by Toni Gardemeister and Elfyn Evans by his father Gwyndaf, a former Ulster Rally winner.

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