Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Confidence is Breen’s driving force at Circuit

Craig Breen

It may sound brash but Craig Breen says he is coming to win the UTV Drive Circuit of Ireland this weekend.

Just turned 20, and with less than two years experience behind him, he’s aiming high — too high some will say.

But Breen explains: “I’m not expecting to win the Circuit but I’m certainly hoping to. I go to every rally with the aim of winning. What would be the point of setting out to try to finish second or third?”

It has to be said that Breen is a winner, albeit at a lower level to what he is trying to achieve this weekend.

Brought up in a rally family in Waterford — his dad Ray is a former Irish forestry champion — he graduated from karts to rally cars late in 2008 and last year became the first driver to take a clean sweep of the Irish, UK and International Ford Fiesta Trophy championships.

He ended the year by winning the Fiesta Shoot-out and a prize which now sees him working at the headquarters of M-Sport, Ford’s World championship operation, in Cumbria.

Naturally he is driving a Ford on the Circuit — but this one will be the centre of attention when the rally begins from Dundalk on Saturday (12 noon).

It is a Super 2000 Fiesta, a sister car to the one in which Mikko Hirvonen won the Monte Carlo Rally earlier this year.

Breen, of course, is no Hirvonen — not yet anyway — but he demonstrated how quickly he has made the transition from little two-wheel-drive Fiestas to the S2000 version by finishing second behind the WRC Ford Focus of Gareth MacHale on the Galway International in February.

He was also third on the Mayo Rally and last weekend was running second behind British champion Keith Cronin on the Bulldog Rally in Wales when a fractured fuel line forced him to retire.

“That was disappointing but these things happen in rallying,” he says. “But I was equally disappointed with the way I drove on the first couple of stages.

“I was sloppy and never really got into a rhythm so I know there was a lot more to come from me and the car.”

Now it is back to Ireland and back to closed road tarmac stages for the Circuit and Breen readily admits his Fiesta does not have the power to match the big WRC Fords and Subarus of the likes of the MacHale brothers, Derek McGarrity, Tim McNulty or Kevin Barrett.

“At the end of the day no S2000 car has the grunt or the raw speed of a WRC car, especially in dry conditions,” he says.

“But it is lighter, more nimble and is a car that is all about commitment. You can’t sit back and let the car do the work, you have to drive it and when you get it right it is very satisfying.

“In Galway and Mayo I was able to set a couple of fastest times which showed what the car can do.

“Now it is all about being consistently on that pace. But I’ve only done three rallies in the car and I’m learning all the time.”

Breen is one of a new breed of ambitious young Irish drivers who are setting their sights beyond these shores — or even the British championship.

Later this year he will head for the World championship with appearances pencilled in for Finland, Spain and Rally GB. He’ll even step down again to an ST Fiesta for the Turkish round just to gain experience of the terrain.

Breen will give Ulster fans a first sight of an S2000 Fiesta, the shape of things to come as rallying prepares to move on from the era of the WRC supercars.

They will be excluded from the World championship from next season, making way for cars like the Fiesta and Citroen’s new DS3, but this weekend they will continue to reign in Ireland, most likely in the hands of an in-form Gareth MacHale or Derek McGarrity or Tim McNulty — unless, that is, the confident young Breen can throw a spanner in the works.

Factfile

Top of the entry list: 1 Gareth MacHale and Brian Murphy (Ford Focus), 2 Derek McGarrity and James McKee (Subaru Impreza), |3 Tim McNulty and Paul Kiely (Subaru Impreza), 4 Aaron MacHale and Eugene O’Donnell (Ford Focus), 5 Kevin Barrett and Sean Mulally (Subaru Impreza), 6 Craig Breen and Gareth Roberts (Ford Fiesta), 7 Alastair Fisher and Marshall Clarke (Mitsubishi Lancer), 8 Garry Jennings and David Moynihan (Mitsubishi Lancer), 9 Richard Cathcart and Martin Brady (Subaru Impreza), 10 Alan Ring and Adrian Deasy (Mitsubishi Lancer), 11 Neil McCance and Sean Ferris (Mitsubishi Lancer), 12 John McGlaughlin and Crawford Henderson (Mitsubishi Lancer) 14 Brendan Cumiskey and Conor Foley (Mitsubishi Lancer), 15 Darragh O’Riordan and Tony |McDaid (Subaru Impreza).

Competitors face 15 special stages stretching over two days, including a daunting 18-miler in the dark on Saturday night.

The rally begins at 12 noon on Saturday after a parade of the cars into the town centre in Dundalk.

They will then move to a short service break in Newry before beginning the first of nine stages in the Newry/Banbridge area.

There will be re-groups in Banbridge at 4.30pm and 8.15pm.

The first car is scheduled back at the Dundalk rally base, the Park Hotel, at 9-45pm.

The re-start on Sunday is at 8am for a further six stages in the Carrickmacross/Crossmaglen area with a re-group in Newry at 12-15pm and the finish scheduled for 4pm.