Ambitious Breen aims to boost quest for return to World stage with Easter Stages Rally success
Craig Breen will aim to tick off another box on his to-do list by winning the Easter Stages Rally, which begins from Antrim's Castle Gardens tomorrow morning (10am).
But it will be no more than a step towards his main goal - a return to the World Championship. Having been axed by Citroen - along with Kris Meeke - at the end of last season, Breen is intent on getting back to where he believes he belongs.
And by contesting the Irish Tarmac and Italian Championships in the company of Meeke's former co-driver Paul Nagle, he is keeping busy and, more importantly, reminding the decision makers in the WRC manufacturer teams that he hasn't gone away.
Some have said he is putting his hard-earned reputation on the line by taking part in rallies he had outgrown some time ago but Breen doesn't care.
"People shouldn't be fooled by any of this. I don't want people getting the idea Paul and I are settling down on these regional rallies. We're not. The goal is to get back to the WRC as soon as possible," said the Andorra-based Waterford man.
"But if I see a rally car and am offered the chance to drive it, I will. It is what I love to do."
That chance came with the support of Irish motorsport benefactor John Campion, who has provided the R5 Ford Fiesta in which Breen has won the first two rounds of the Irish series in Galway and West Cork.
Now the target is to make it three in a row and after his stunning final stage victory for the Metior Skoda team in Italy's Sanremo Rally, he is odds-on favourite to complete a home hat-trick over the next two days.
And that's as it should be for while Breen's presence has been a boost for the profile of Ireland's premier Championship, it has also caused some disquiet among the regulars who are purely amateurs, drivers who do it for fun and not for a living.
Having regularly battled among themselves for the title, they are now facing a driver who has been sharpened by five years in European and World competition. And Breen has been putting that experience to good use in the way he has controlled both the Galway and West Cork rounds, edging ahead and just doing enough to stay there.
Some, of course, see his presence as an incentive, a chance to mix it with a driver who has, like Meeke, proved that it is possible to rise from Irish rallying to World level. There is nothing the likes of Alastair Fisher, reigning Tarmac champion Josh Moffett, his brother Sam, Desi Henry, Declan Boyle, Callum Devine and Jonny Greer would enjoy more than stopping the Breen bandwagon.
There are few certainties in rallying but Breen has been here and done it all before with two Circuit of Ireland wins and it would be no surprise to see him and Nagle celebrating on their Fiesta's bonnet this Easter Saturday evening.
Run by the Ulster Automobile Club and backed by Wastewater Solutions, the crews leave Antrim tomorrow to tackle six stages around the service park at Dundrod with eight more on Saturday.
1 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Ford Fiesta R5), 2 Josh Moffett/Keith Moriarty (Ford Fiesta R5), 3 Alastair Fisher/Gordon Noble (Ford Fiesta R5), 4 Sam Moffett/ James Fulton (Ford Fiesta R5), 5 Declan Boyle/Brian Boyle (Ford Fiesta R5), 6 Derek McGarrity/Paddy Robinson (Ford Fiesta WRC), 7 Manus Kelly/Rory Kennedy (Hyundai i20 R5), 8 Callum Devine/Brian Hoy (Ford fiesta R5), 9 Jonathan Greer/Kirsty Riddick (Ford Fiesta R5), 10 Desi Henry/Liam Moynihan (Skoda Fabia R5), 11 Meirion Evans/Jonathan Jackson (Hyundai i20 R5), 12 Alan Carmichael/Arthur Kierans (Hyundai R5), 14 Eugene Donnelly/ Brian Kirwan (Proton Iriz R5), 15 Mark Massey/Niall Burns (Ford Fiesta R5), 16 Conor McCrossan/David Burns (Skoda Fabia R5), 18 Stuart Biggerstaff/Anthony Nestor (Subaru Impreza WRC), 19 Daniel Cronin/Jim Cremin (Ford Fiesta R5), 20 William Mavitty/Andrew Browne (Mitsubishi Evo).